COVID-19 related questions for college admissions & financial aid

Last updated: May 1, 2020

With the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, we understand this is an uncertain time for students, parents and counselors alike. You may have more college admissions and financial aid questions now than ever. We’re here to answer these questions to the best of our abilities so you can decide what’s best for your academic future.

Let’s jump into some common college admissions and financial aid questions.

For everyone (high school & college students)

How is the current crisis affecting colleges financially–and should I be worried that my college will close as a result?

Colleges are taking a financial hit with the campus shutdowns. Some are returning room & board money, and most expect to take on fewer international or out-of-state students (who often help subsidize the costs for domestic or in-state students). Meanwhile, their costs remain almost the same, as they still need to pay professors and staff.

So we understand that you are concerned about the financial health of your college (or, for juniors, colleges on your application list). Here are three ways to check that out: 

  1. Check the Board of Education’s Financial Responsibility Composite Score, which rates each college’s ability to meet the standards of financial responsibility required to be eligible for federal financial aid. (Note: The last available dataset is from 2016-2017.)
  2. Check Forbes’ financial health grades for each college (scroll down for the searchable table). 
  3. Check the size of each college endowment, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers – Download the PDF or Excel spreadsheet

Does this mean students might get less financial aid? 

If you’re a current student (or already got your financial aid offer):

If you’re an incoming student (ex: admitted high school senior), contact your college financial aid advisor to confirm the details of your financial aid package. It will likely be honored, as we haven’t seen any evidence of colleges retracting or amending their original offers.

If you’re already in college, you are still eligible for aid, and your financial aid package will continue to be honored, as offered to you originally. Also, if you’re being asked to leave campus, you may be eligible for some money back. Some schools are offering financial assistance for travel, since students need to leave campus housing, as well as a partial refund for room and board fees already paid. Students should contact colleges individually to see what financial accommodations their school is making.

If you or your family have been affected by COVID-19 (ex: you’ve lost your job, or your parents lost their jobs), speak with your financial aid office to find out if you can adjust your tuition costs. You may also update your FAFSA, so that you get a new EFC–and then write an appeal letter explaining your change of circumstances (and attaching documentation of your new, lower EFC).

If you have not applied for financial aid yet:

If you’re a student who’s been admitted but not yet received your financial aid package yet (or a high school junior), unfortunately we don’t have much information on whether COVID-19 is resulting in lower financial aid offers. What we can say is that the process for applying for aid remains the same. Start by submitting your FAFSA form and your state grant form, and then apply for scholarships and other financial aid.

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Will I still be able to apply for scholarships and earn award money?

Yes! We encourage you to continue to apply for scholarships to help fund your college education. Scholarship providers are still taking applications and awarding scholarship money. You can create a free Going Merry profile to get matched with scholarship opportunities and apply.

For high school juniors

Since students can’t visit campuses or attend admission weekends, how else should they research colleges (especially to get a sense of their “vibe”)?

First, check virtual campus tours. 

There are some third-party companies that offer virtual college tours–like YouVisit, CampusTours, YOUniversity, and CampusReel. (Here’s a spreadsheet with a list of colleges and their virtual campus links.)

However, a majority of colleges are now offering their own virtual tours and online resources, right on their college websites. (You can literally Google the school name + “virtual online campus tour”). Schools are making these resources more interactive, since students are now relying on online resources to get a feel for the college’s culture and curriculum.

  • For example, Florida Southern College’s homepage now welcomes students to “Experience Florida Southern From Home.” The college offers video resources showcasing the college’s culture, academics programs with student interviews, how they are facing the future with COVID-19’s effects, and a 360 degree virtual tour of the campus. Students can register for online sessions to learn more about the academics, community, application process, and to meet an admissions counselor.
  • As another example, Dartmouth College is offering interactive virtual visits, encouraging students to sign up for the Dartmouth Admissions mailing list, create your own tour with video resources from students and faculty. Students can still sign up to receive information about the college and its academic programs.

Second, do a review of their “official” online materials. 

Check out each college as a whole as you normally would – including the campus, the culture, the academics, clubs and extracurricular activities – by visiting their website, checking their social media, and speaking to a representative on the phone (or video!). All of this will help you narrow down your target college list.

Third, check out online communities.

Many schools have their own sub-Reddits where students post information. Current students also often post “Day in the life at [X college]” videos on YouTube.

Fourth, figure out where you’d live (Plan A and Plan B). 

Keep in mind: colleges might not permit you to live on-campus for the fall semester. Now is the time to decide if you’ll be able to live at home with family, find off-campus housing, or get a place of your own (if you have the ability and resources). Potentially the answer to this question affects what colleges you decide to apply for.

Student researching financial aid questions

What does this mean for testing?

The Advanced Placement (AP) tests will now be 45 minutes and offered online. Multiple choice questions have been eliminated from the tests.

The ACT test has been rescheduled for June 13. The College Board cancelled the May SAT test, but the June SAT test is still scheduled to take place as of now. If you sit the test for these June dates, you will still have time to retake the exams in Senior Fall, should you be unhappy with your scores.

Alternatively, you can apply purely to test-optional colleges, which don’t require you submit any SAT or ACT score for your application for admission. (Some of these colleges have always been test-optional, while others have converted to test-optional for the upcoming application season, due to the crisis.) Check out this frequently updated list from the National Center for Fair & Open Testing for a pretty comprehensive list of test-optional schools.

Will colleges change requirements for admissions in the fall?

As mentioned above, some colleges are test-optional, so they will review student applications WITHOUT the need for test scores. Colleges will instead make their admissions decision based on the other parts in your application, such as your grades, extracurricular activities, community service, and letters of recommendation.

In particular, what colleges don’t require the ACT/SAT (or won’t just for this year)?

Visit the National Center for Fair and Open Testing website for an updated list of accredited colleges and universities that are test-optional. 

In light of the coronavirus, more and more colleges have decided to convert to test-optional. Usually this change applies for the Class of 2021 (who will be applying for admission in Fall 2020), but some colleges have extended it even for the incoming Class of 2020. Some are also making the change permanent. For instance, we’ve seen coverage of the following colleges making this announcement over the last month (and we expect more to come):

The best advice we have is to check each of your target colleges individually. They may have issued an announcement on their website (like the schools above). Otherwise, you can contact their admissions office to find out.

What can rising seniors do in the summer (after junior year) given the pandemic?

Colleges still care to see that you’re making an effort to make the most out of your summer. So while summer camps and summer jobs/internships may now be tough, consider taking online classes through a site like edX or Coursera. Also, in a month or so, companies may have adjusted to the new realities and be offering remote internship opportunities.

You can also download this junior year checklist of other college prep things to think about.

Save and print it by going to the upper right corner, and hitting the “Download” button.

For high school seniors & current college students

Will the pandemic affect my application decision?

No – student applications will still be reviewed and considered for admissions. Princeton University recently tweeted to help reassure students, stating, “Please note: The coronavirus outbreak and its effects have no impact on how we evaluate applicants to the University. Every application will receive our full consideration.”

I’ve already accepted my admissions at a college. Anything specific I should do now?

If you’ve been accepted to a college or university, we recommend contacting your admissions counselor and the financial aid office respectively.

Your admissions may be able to update you – if they haven’t already – regarding virtual orientation dates, when the school year will commence (if it’s on schedule or if it’s been pushed back), and information about online learning.

The financial aid office can provide you with information regarding when tuition payments begin, which will be important for you and your family and how the pandemic has or will affect your family income. Many schools have delayed their initial deposit dates (see list here), since households may be financially affected by the pandemic (and need more cash now).

Has your financial situation changed due to COVID-19? Then you might qualify for a financial aid revision.

Will colleges be open for fall semester (and if not, will it be online learning)?

As of right now, most colleges are still reviewing whether to open their physical campus locations for the Fall semester. Most colleges are sending emails, calling students, and/or dedicating a webpage with updates on how COVID-19 affects the academic year. The SF Chronicle also has a good list of the current status of various colleges’ Fall semester plans. But if yours isn’t on the list and doesn’t have a public announcement on their website, reach out to the school directly.

When physical campuses be closed for Fall, colleges seem to be discussing a couple options:

  1. Move to an online learning format — either as normal semesters or shorter “modules.”
  2. Start the academic year on campus in Spring semester (or Winter quarter, for those on the quarter system).

Check out these additional resources to help answer your financial aid questions:

We’re here for you during this uncertain time. We encourage you to continue applying for scholarship awards from the comfort of your home to help fund your education. Create your Going Merry student profile to get matched with thousands of scholarships that you’re eligible for. You can filter your results, browse local scholarships, and apply within minutes.

Ready to find scholarships that are a match for you?