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COVID + College FAQ: Costs, Closures, And Financial Aid

HerMoney Staff  |  July 15, 2020

This fall, the coronavirus could be impacting your college experience. We've got a rundown of some of the most frequently asked student questions.

Note: This content is part of a paid partnership between Citizens Bank and HerMoney Media

Your college years are typically synonymous with growth and change, as well as significant expenses — the very definition of an uncertain time. Couple that with the COVID-19 rollercoaster we’re all riding, and it makes sense that students and institutions alike are doing their best day-to-day to simply get by. If you’re a student wondering about how the pandemic could impact your individual college experience, HerMoney has your back — read on for answers to common questions. 

How is COVID-19 impacting the cost of college? 

It’s too early to tell exactly how the pandemic will impact the sticker price of college, but it’s safe to say we’ll see the effects for years to come. The University of Michigan projects losses of $400 million to $1 billion for this calendar year across all its campuses, while the University of California reported $558 million in unanticipated costs for the month of March alone. Will that mean a significant uptick in tuition? That remains to be seen, but we do know that on the student side of things, families are feeling the pressure. 

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“There’s been a lot of financial upheaval… from unemployment, changes in the market,” said Christine Roberts, head of student lending at Citizens Bank, in a live interview with HerMoney on LinkedIn. “Your overall financial picture may have changed. We are hearing from families that more of them are going to need to borrow because of the change in the market dynamics.” 

What happens if my school issues a refund because the semester changes? 

Some colleges and universities are issuing prorated or partial refunds to students for things like room and board, parking and student activities. In some cases, students have even filed class action lawsuits against their schools in order to receive refunds. If your school offers a refund, talk to a parent or guardian about the best way to use the money — it might need to be allotted for family expenses or for next year’s tuition and housing costs. If it represents money that you borrowed, call your lender and ask about provisions for repayment. 

What happens to my financial aid if I delay a semester or a full year? 

Deferral policies’ stances on financial aid vary between schools. Since COVID-19 is prompting more students to consider a gap year or semester, some institutions could narrow the scope of their policies to better ensure they’ll have aid for current students, especially in the face of so much uncertainty. Give your school’s COVID-19 deferral policy a careful read — it’s likely featured on the website — and call the registrar or admissions office with any individual questions. 

“A lot of schools have changed their rules recently as a result of COVID,” says Roberts. If you’re an incoming freshman who’s interested in a gap year, some colleges mandate that you apply for readmission down the line. Other schools have “updated their transfer requirements,” said Roberts — meaning that before deciding to enroll in community college courses for a semester, you’ll need to ensure that your school will accept those other courses for credit. 

Another key consideration: If you’re going into your sophomore, junior or senior year, keep in mind that a gap year will affect your student loan payback timeline. After six months, your student loan grace period will end, and you’ll need to either start paying back your student loans or “apply for a special forbearance,” said Roberts. 

What happens to my financial aid if I am just taking online classes and don’t have to pay room and board? 

As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, you’re entitled to any federal aid you’ve already received. And as long as you maintain your classes, you should remain eligible for your financial aid as long as you “regularly continue to participate in and complete the course work,” according to 

Something else to note: If your enrollment status changes — for example, if cancellation of in-person-only classes drops you to part-time status — then your eligibility for federal financial aid could change, too. Reach out to your school’s financial aid office with any questions about your individual aid status. 

In light of COVID-19, can I negotiate for more financial aid? 

We’ll never advise against smart negotiation. It’s important to remember that your financial aid decision for the next school year was based on 2018 income information, so if anything’s changed significantly — for instance, a parent’s job loss, high medical expenses or a significant reduction in savings — then you can present that information to support an appeal for additional aid. 

“If there’s been a drastic change… go to the universities; all of them have a, for lack of a better term, ‘hardship application,’” said Roberts. “By going in and saying, ‘Look, this is how much things have changed for us,’ the school can then take another look and offer you additional assistance — not guaranteed, but it’s certainly worth going and talking to them about.” 

Check the financial aid office’s website for an appeal form, and be sure to mark down any and all deadlines associated with the appeals process. While you’re at it, send an email to the financial aid office with an update on your situation — ask them to consider additional aid in your case and whether there’s anything else you need to do to get the ball rolling on an appeal. 

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