Normally at this time of the year amid high school graduation season, many seniors can’t wait to start college in the fall. Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic has negatively impacted how many incoming freshman can pay for college.
In a NitroCollege.com survey of more than 6,500 college-bound high school seniors and their parents, 69 percent of parents and 55 percent of students said the pandemic has affected their ability to pay for college. That lines up with an April survey by Junior Achievement and Citizens Bank that found nearly half of high school juniors and seniors (44 percent) said COVID-19 has impacted their plans to pay for college.
Current college students are also suffering: more than 4 out of 5 (81 percent) of those recently surveyed by Student Loan Hero said they’re facing financial difficulties due to the coronavirus crisis.
The silver lining? If you’re tight on money for college and you're planning to start in the fall, there are a number of ways you can pay your education expenses without letting the coronavirus derail your plans.
Take out private student loans
Although private student loans are not eligible for CARES Act benefits, some experts predict that lenders will offer lower interest rates on private loans to students and families whose finances have been negatively affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Credible's free online tool allows borrowers to compare student loan rates from multiple lenders within minutes.
That would be good news for the 58 percent of high school juniors and seniors who said that they're now more likely to take out student loans to pay for college because of the coronavirus pandemic's financial impact on their family, the Junior Achievement and Citizens Bank survey found.
But before you apply for private loans, make sure you know what you’re signing up for — private student loans typically have higher interest rates than federal loans, and, unlike federal loans, private loans don’t qualify for loan forgiveness or income-based repayment. See what kind of rates you qualify for right now through Credible.
Ask your school for more financial aid
At this point, you’ve probably already received a financial aid award letter from your college saying how much money you’ve qualified for in grants, scholarships and federal student loans to pay for tuition and fees. (If you're not satisfied with what you received, you may also want to consider taking out a private student loan.)
Many schools are making adjustments to financial aid awards in light of the coronavirus’ devastating impact on the economy. Particularly, if your parents have been laid off or have had their wages reduced, their loss of income may mean you’re eligible for more financial aid.
The caveat? You may have to submit a formal appeal letter to have your financial aid package re-evaluated, so contact your school’s financial aid office to find out what its appeals process entails. Pro tip: Websites such as Edmit and Road2College offer free templates of financial aid appeal letters.
In addition, a number of colleges have established relief funds to help students shoulder education expenses. For example, Mississippi State University announced it will use the $8.9 million it receives from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to directly assist eligible students who are facing financial challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Apply for more scholarships and grants
Every year, the U.S. Department of Education and the nation’s colleges and universities award $46 billion in scholarships and grants, Debt.org reported. We’re talking about free financial aid — money that you don’t have to pay back when you graduate. To see which scholarships and grants are still up for grabs, check out CollegeScholarships.org’s search engine, where you can filter by date. (As of press time, more than 250 awards were still available.) If you'd like to learn more, you should reach out to a financial advisor.
Reconsider where you’re going to college
Traditionally, college-bound students have to accept admission offers by May 1. However, many universities have extended their deadline to June 1 or later. AcceptGroup.org has assembled a list of colleges that have pushed back deposit deadlines, and the list is updated daily.
If your prospective school has extended its acceptance deadline, this gives you an opportunity to reconsider where you want to go to college. Depending on your financial situation, it may make sense to choose a less-expensive school or a school that’s closer to home so that you can live with your parents and save money on housing. (According to the NitroCollege.com survey, 29 percent of respondents said they’re considering going to a college closer to home). Community college may also be a good option if you don't have the money for a four-year school.
Got waitlisted at your dream school? College experts anticipate more wait-listed students will get admission offers this year, as universities find ways to fill freshman classes.