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Tackling common college questions during COVID-19



This is an incredibly stressful time for families who have to navigate college admissions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a practical matter, this (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime experience has generated a great deal of college questions from anxious students, parents, educational consultants and high school counselors.

Some answers are known.

We know, for instance, that the Advanced Placement tests, with a radically different format, will take place next month. The number of colleges tossing SAT/ACT requirements continues to grow.  Lots of schools have extended their deposit date.

Searching for college answers during COVID-19

But far more questions remain unanswered.

And that’s why I sought out Robert Massa, a higher-ed thought leader, to get his take on what lays ahead in the college admission landscape.

Massa has been a leader in admissions and enrollment management for 46 years at a variety of private colleges. He was dean of admissions and financial aid at Johns Hopkins University for a decade and I crossed paths with him back in 2006 when my daughter Caitlin, her dad and I visited Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, where Massa was vice president of enrollment.

Here are some of the topics that Massa, who is now teaching a graduate course on college enrollment management at USC, and I discussed during a 47-minute, recorded Q&A:

  • What do you think will happen on college campuses in the fall?
  • What’s going to happen to need-aware financial aid practices?
  • How successful will families be in appealing for more money?
  • How will colleges react to requests for deferrals/gap year?
  • Will there be more school closings/mergers?
  • What should people make of larger wait lists?
  • How do you evaluate a college when you can’t visit?
  • What do you think of the increasing number of schools becoming test-optional.

I am providing a snapshot below of some of Massa’s observations, but I’d urge you to watch the entire interview to hear the full discussion.

How will the coronavirus pandemic influence student choices?

Massa agrees with surveys of students that suggest that more students are going to want to attend college closer to home. One publicized survey suggests that more than a third of high school seniors said attending a college closer to home was more realistic than their first-choice option.

With the COVID-19 crisis wiping out jobs and shrinking assets, more students will likely be attending community college or regional state universities nearby and living at home.

Massa and I both agreed that parents should not jeopardize themselves financially to allow their children to attend their dream colleges. This is a luxury that doesn’t make sense in this time of financial insecurity.

When family finances aren’t an issue, Massa cautions students against rejecting a school they think is ideal just because they are scared. Massa believes that this disruption is temporary and eventually life on campuses will return to normal for most of an undergrad’s college years.

What might happen in the fall?

A March survey of college presidents and chancellors indicates that 36% of them think the college year will be disrupted. Massa thinks the chances that college campuses will be completely back to normal in the fall is small.

A couple of possibilities for the fall include:

  • The academic school year will start later with a compressed fall semester.
  • There could be some kind of hybrid arrangement where a smaller number of students would be on campus at any given time and others would be engaged in distant learning. Students would rotate in this arrangement.

Parents might be willing to pay for some kind of distant learning arrangement at an Ivy League school, but less likely at other institutions.

What about doing a gap year and asking for a college for a deferral?

A very small percentage of admitted freshmen typically ask for their admission to be deferred for a semester or a year. Massa anticipates that the percentage of accepted students wanting to start college later will grow but not significantly.

Massa believes that colleges will be approving these deferral requests. After all, colleges are going to want as many students to commit as possible so they will accommodate requests.

How colleges will regard gap year activities?

I asked Massa this question after I heard from some parents who wonder if a child uses a deferral to take courses at a community college, will they still be considered a freshman when they start at a four-year institution?

Usually, colleges will not accept credits from students who attended a community college during a gap year. Or may just accept a very small number, but this is an unusual time.

Massa said it’s important to ask a school if a child’s status as a freshmen will be protected if he/she plans to take classes elsewhere and if the credits will be accepted.

Something to think about is that the best merit aid is typically given to freshman. Students, who want to take some classes during a gap period, will want to make sure how this might impact merit scholarships and potential financial aid.

What will happen when colleges are overwhelmed with greater financial aid need and appeals?

I specifically asked Massa about need-aware policies, which will need an explanation for some of you. Many colleges have traditionally rejected some students because they required financial aid. Basically when financial aid funds run out, need-aware schools start looking for students who can pay full price or close to it at the expense of students who have significant need.

For my readers who want to see how this common policy plays out during hard times, here is a link to a New York Times story published during the 2008-2009 recession that attracted thousands of reader comments.

In addressing my need-aware question, Massa said that the majority of schools can’t afford to be need-aware because they will need to attract more students as some sit out, some attend schools closer to home or go to community colleges.

While schools won’t turn away students that they might have normally, many students won’t get the financial aid they need. That will lead to families deciding how much is safe to borrow.

How can high school seniors make a decision when they haven’t visited a school yet?

There are ways to evaluate a school when visiting a school isn’t an option. Massa urged students to schedule an online visit with a college’s  admission rep to ask a series of questions. Students should ask the admission rep to connect them with professors and students at the institution.

I should mention that I wrote a post years ago that explains how you can research academic departments, which I think that is critical!

Here is that post:

Digging Deeper When Researching Colleges

Bottom Line:

No one knows for sure what will happen going forward, but staying informed will be crucial to making the best college decisions.









The post Tackling common college questions during COVID-19 appeared first on The College Solution.

By: Lynn O’Shaughnessy
Title: Tackling common college questions during COVID-19
Sourced From:
Published Date: Wed, 08 Apr 2020 23:29:26 +0000

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Webinar Recap: How COVID-19 is Affecting Financial Aid



Many families are facing new financial challenges in light of the coronavirus emergency, and College Confidential has fielded dozens of questions on this topic recently. To address those queries, we hosted a webinar on April 9 entitled “Paying for College Amid Changes Due to the Impact of COVID-19.”

During the event, moderated by Aaron Murphy, manager of learning and development with Inside Track, the following panelists offered their perspectives on the issue:

  • Denise Trusty, director of financial aid with Morehead State University
  • Laura Reisert Kalinkewicz, associate vice president of college partnerships with RaiseMe
  • Amy Nelson, director of sales at International Scholarship and Tuition Services
  • Charlie Javice, founder and CEO of Frank.

Check out the following topics that the panelists discussed, along with their views of how things may unfold amid the financial challenges brought on by the coronavirus outbreak.

Family Finances Changed? Contact Your Schools

If you plan to start college in the fall as a freshman — or return to school as an existing student — and your financial situation has changed since you applied for financial aid, you should contact the colleges on your list immediately. Financial aid departments can consider appeals for more money, but must base these decisions on each individual student’s situation, Trusty said.

“I know with Morehead State, where I work, we will be doing professional judgement calls on all students who say they’ve been affected,” she noted. “We will reach out to those students to see what we can do to help them maybe obtain additional funding, additional grants, scholarships, whatever they would be eligible for. We do professional judgment all the time for our students, because things happen all the time. This year will be an especially large amount of those, I’m sure, but those are up to individual schools to make that call for their students.”

In addition, she added, the Department of Education has set aside over $6 billion for additional grants and scholarships that the universities will be able to use. “Currently, I don’t know how that’s all going to play into this,” Trusty said. “So that will be up to each individual university on how they lay those out. I know it will be beneficial, I just don’t know how available that will be to each student.”

Keep in mind that schools are accustomed to reviewing financial aid appeals, and they all have processes in place for to do so. “It is really, really important to know that schools typically leave a budget from 10 percent to 20 percent or so of their financial aid dollars for what would be called a professional judgment bucket,”Javice said. “Therefore, there is additional money to be had, and it’s up to you to request it. You should approach your school as soon as you know you might need more money, and be prepared to show supporting documentation demonstrating how your finances are different from when you filed your FAFSA initially. This might require proof of a job loss, medical bills, a cut in pay or another such issue, Javice said.

In addition, if another school gave you a better financial offer, you can petition the school that gave you the lower offer for more money, Javice noted. “This typically works better for private institutions versus public state schools, given the fact that they have a little bit more discrepancy and more dollars to put to work in terms of a tuition discount,” she added. “This is solely up to the school on a case by case basis.” In some cases, the money is distributed on a first come, first serve timeline, so don’t wait if you know you need more aid.

Although financial aid can be a stressful topic, try not to be emotional when you request more money, Javice added. You’ll get a lot further by having organized documentation to present than you would by getting angry or upset, she noted.

Consider Outside Scholarships

The coronavirus situation has changed plans not only for incoming freshmen, but also for current college students, Nelson said. “Organizations are stepping up and trying to find ways to provide additional scholarship opportunities this year,” she noted. Students should be proactive in seeking those options.

Raise Me is offering new micro-scholarships for students who are seeking additional funding sources, Kalinkewicz said. In addition, she encourages students to ask colleges for more time to make decisions, even if the school hasn’t extended its deposit process. You can always try and request additional time to get your financial aid package right, she noted.

Finding more money is not relegated to younger students, Javice added. “Adult learners comprise the biggest group of people actually going to college today,” she noted. It’s very common for people to be seeking new types of skills and going back to college to gain additional degrees. Financial aid is available to adult learners, and they may even get aid to pay such costs as rent, she added. In addition, they can seek outside scholarships or employer-matching funds to pay for their educations.

Not Necessarily Too Late to File FAFSA

Students who didn’t file a FAFSA already should do that as soon as possible so you can get access to financial aid funds, Javice said. Federal FAFSA deadlines are usually in June, but states make their own deadlines for state aid. Some states, such as New Jersey, have moved their deadlines back for this year, so check to make sure you stay on top of your deadlines.

And if you file for financial aid and you decide you don’t want it, you can always decline the financial offer or portions of that offer, Nelson said. Your best bet is to apply so you can take what you need and decline any amounts you don’t need. Even if you don’t think you qualify for financial aid, you should apply anyway because you could be surprised at what you’re offered. “You really need to complete that [FAFSA] process every year,” Nelson said. “The process is very easy, and jobs can come and go. It’s your safety net and you want to make sure you’ve completed it. It makes it a whole lot easier when situations like this arise.”

Some colleges also have supplemental applications to fill out for particular types of aid, so always reach out to your financial aid office for information on which documentation you should be completing, Kalinkewicz said.

Could Families — Not Schools — Be in the Driver’s Seat?

Because many merit scholarships are based on test scores and GPAs, some high school juniors are concerned that they won’t have access to those in the coming year. With test dates being canceled and grades moving to pass/fail, they fear they won’t meet the criteria to earn such scholarships.

“It’s clear to me that colleges and universities know the extraordinary circumstances we’re under,” Nelson said. “All schools are leaning forward and considering all options as the situation develops. I would continue to encourage juniors to stay engaged and stay informed.” You should also watch to see what happens with test dates, she said. The ACT and SAT dates could change, and some schools may forego the need for a test score altogether, she added.

In addition, some merit scholarships that have traditionally been based on test scores may become test optional, Kalinkewicz noted.

Keep in mind that in many cases, families are in the driver’s seat rather than having the colleges be in charge, Javice said. Some schools have lost revenue and are very eager for students right now, “so if you are scared because you thought you could never get into a specific school from an admission criteria standpoint, this is your year to stretch, this is your year to think about the schools that are your reach category and go for it, because schools need the money and need the students. So the power that used to be in an admissions office is in you, the student or the family’s hands,” she said.

She also advises juniors to request application waivers from schools to save the $50 to $100 or so per application that they would normally pay. The schools may say no, but it won’t hurt to ask, she advised. “Persistence is key when dealing with schools,” Javice noted.

Federal Student Loans Payment Suspended

As many families are aware, payments on federal student loans are automatically suspended from March 13 through September 30, 2020 thanks to the government’s CARES Act. This is essential to keep in mind, particularly for families that have multiple children in various stages of the college process.

“You will stop paying your loans and you will have zero interest from now until September 30, and that’s important for parents to know,” Nelson said regarding existing federal student loans. “If you had an auto draft, the auto draft has been shut off and will not continue. You can, however, continue to make those payments if you’d like, and any interest you had before March 13, once that interest is paid up, all your payments will go directly toward your principal.” She advises families with federally-backed loans to check with their loan servicing agents, because they have a lot of information for both parent and student borrowers on how the CARES Act will impact payments for the next six months.

Student Job Gone? Colleges Might Help

For students who expect to earn money via part-time or full-time work to pay for college, but can’t do so due to the coronavirus, colleges may have resources to help. “There are many colleges and universities that have put together emergency grants for students to cover expenses that they were maybe not expecting because of COVID-19,” Nelson said. “They are making accommodations to try and make up for that lost income for students.”

Trusty said Morehead State is continuing to pay students who were on federal work-study. “If they had a job, we are still paying them right now as if they were working, although they are not. In the summer, those funds will be flipped over to emergency grant funds. So we will make sure that our students are covered and can live as if they were employed with the work-study position.”

Some colleges have even made remote work available to students, Kalinkewicz added. Therefore, contact your financial aid office to determine if any accommodations are available to make up for lost student income whenever possible.

Consider Other Options to Save

If you are seeking ways to save money on college, you should also consider other resources, whether that means less expensive colleges, in-state options or potentially transferring down the road, Janice said. You can also save money by taking classes at a community college to pay a lower cost for your credits that can be transferred to a four-year college later.

“If you have that target institution in mind — maybe you’ve already been admitted there but your family has determined a year of community college will really help stretch things further — work on articulation agreements or a plan so you are taking the right classes that actually have the ability to transfer toward the degree you want at your target institution, not necessarily just as credit,” Kalinkewicz said.

In addition, many colleges offer merit aid for transfer students, she added. So always look for every potential financial aid and scholarship resource to best maximize your package and allow your dollars to stretch as far as possible.

Resource: To review the entire hour-long webinar, you can watch the replay here.

Share Your Thoughts

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Check out our forum to contribute to the conversation!

By: Torrey Kim
Title: Webinar Recap: How COVID-19 is Affecting Financial Aid
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Published Date: Fri, 10 Apr 2020 15:22:20 +0000

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