COVID-19 changed many aspects of life, including college. Many schools switched to remote learning for most of the 2020-21 school year, and this trend may continue into next year. Colleges have also closed on-campus housing facilities, affecting the cost of living for many students.
Amidst these changes, recent data from the College Board shows college tuition costs increased by the lowest amount in 30-years. While tuition prices have historically risen by 3% annually, average tuition and fees paid by in-state students at four-year public institutions rose only 1.1% from the 2019-2020 year to the 2020-2021 year. Even at private non-profit institutions, tuition was up just 2.1%.
Still, tuition remains too high for most to afford without student loans, with average tuition coming in at $37,650 for private colleges; $10,560 for public colleges; and $3,770 for public community colleges in the 2020 to 2021 school year. And the average costs of college don't stop at tuition, either, as attendees also need to pay for room and board and other living expenses, which may look very different due to COVID.
Students should consider some of the ways that COVID-19 could affect paying for college for the upcoming year. For students who need extra financial help beyond what student aid and federal student loans offer, visit Credible to learn more about private student loans and get personalized rates from multiple lenders without affecting their credit score.
In response to COVID-19, the federal government made major changes to federal student loans. These changes offered help paying back student loans for those who were unable to afford student loan payments due to the pandemic. They included setting student loan interest rates to 0% temporarily, as well as putting payments into automatic forbearance.
These special rules are in effect until September 30, after which time, repayment will resume. They demonstrate why students should prioritize federal aid when securing loans. Federal student loans offer more borrower protections, not just during the pandemic but at all times.
However, there are annual limits on federal student aid, and many students may find themselves hitting these limits — especially if they face added costs in the upcoming school year due to continued pandemic-related expenses.
Those who need help beyond what the federal government can offer should visit Credible to review private student loan options after they’ve hit federal loan limits. The rates table below can help borrowers compare fixed and variable interest rates from multiple lenders at once.
Living at home
Student loans don't just cover tuition; they can also be used to pay for living expenses. While you should aim to keep student loan debt as low as possible, you do need to ensure you have the money to cover the true cost of college, including rent, food, and other routine costs.
These costs can differ considerably depending on whether you live on campus, commute, or live at home. For example, for the 2020-21 academic year, Rutgers estimates room and board costs for students living on campus as:
- $14,170 for on-campus students
- $5,284 for commuters
- $16,706 for students living off-campus
For students who choose to attend school remotely due to COVID-19 and who are able to commute to campus as a result, the costs of attending school may be significantly lower. However, when campus housing is not available as a result of the pandemic, students who cannot live at home may face higher costs and thus need to borrow more money.
Before deciding on the amount of student loans you need to cover tuition and living expenses, it's a good idea to use an online student loan calculator to determine costs. You'll want to make sure you'll be able to repay the amount you borrow.
Students also became eligible for more aid in 2020 due to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. The CARES Act made funding available to provide Emergency Financial Aid Grants to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students requiring extra help covering pandemic-related expenses.
CARES Act grants are available to students who submit a 2019 to 2020 FAFSA by the June 30 deadline. Students whose family income was affected by coronavirus may also be eligible for more aid for the upcoming school year as well.
Both current students and those with student loans need to understand how COVID affected college costs in order to plan for how to cover tuition and living expenses. For those who find they will need more help than the government offers, it's also a good idea to visit Credible to learn more about private student loans and get personalized rates.
Have a finance-related question, but don't know who to ask? Email The Credible Money Expert at email@example.com and your question might be answered by Credible in our Money Expert column.