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7 Ways to Pay for College During the COVID Pandemic

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With COVID-19 having such a devastating impact on the economy, many students are reconsidering their higher education plans. According to a recent survey, four-year colleges may experience enrollment declines, as 13% of college students consider dropping out due to the coronavirus crisis. 

While safety is a major concern, another factor affecting college admissions and students’ enrollment is college cost. With financial aid, one of the biggest issues is the information you’re required to submit on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA uses financial information for your financial aid package from two years prior — the 2020-2021 FAFSA required applicants to enter their 2018 tax return information — which can be incredibly outdated for borrowers, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic. 

If you are struggling to pay for college due to the COVID-19 pandemic, here are seven ways to get the money you need for school. 

1. Appeal Your Financial Aid Decision

If your financial situation has substantially changed since 2018, you may be eligible for additional federal aid this academic year.

You can submit a financial assistance appeal to request more aid if you or your parents lost their jobs, incurred major medical expenses, if a parent passed away, or you had some other occurrence that significantly reduced your household income.

Since millions of people lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic, many students may be able to appeal their financial aid awards. 

Contact your school’s financial aid office and ask what their appeals process is. The process can vary from school to school; some schools allow you to submit a letter explaining your situation, while others have particular forms you need to complete. 

When appealing a financial aid decision, it’s important to submit the appeal as soon as possible to improve your chances of getting extra aid. Schools may have additional grants and awards to give out, but they’re often distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. 

2. Apply for Federal COVID-19 Emergency Grants

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, the federal government provided funding to universities and colleges to give emergency relief to students affected by the pandemic.

If you qualify for a grant, you can use the money to pay for essential expenses, such as food, housing, course materials, healthcare, and child care. Because the funds are a grant — a form of gift aid — they do not have to be repaid.  

You cannot apply for a grant directly from the US Department of Education. Instead, contact your school financial aid office and ask about available grants and federal financial aid. Each school is responsible for deciding its eligibility criteria and grant amounts, so a financial aid representative can explain what you need to do to apply and how much you could receive. 

3. Work Remotely

Working and earning an income while in school can be an excellent way to offset your education expenses and gain valuable experience — and build your professional network. While on-campus work-study, retail, and food service jobs may be limited due to the pandemic, you can still make money remotely. For example, these are different ways you can make money off-campus to help cover the cost of college tuition:

  • Grocery delivery
  • Online transcription
  • Online tutoring
  • Pet sitting
  • Social media management
  • Virtual assistant work
  • Virtual customer service

With these types of jobs, you can set your own schedule and work when it’s convenient for you. Using your earnings to pay for a portion of your education expenses can reduce your need for financial aid or taking on student loan debt.

4. Ask for Emergency Assistance

Some schools are offering their own emergency assistance programs to students struggling to make ends meet. 

For example, the University of Central Florida allowed students to defer tuition for the fall semester and housing payments until later in the term. And, the state university created a Short Term Advance program, where it advanced up to $600 in financial aid to students so they could buy textbooks and supplies. 

If you can’t afford your housing, textbooks, or other costs, contact the financial aid office or office of residence life to discuss your options before going back to school; you may qualify for help.

5. Search for Scholarship Opportunities

You can apply for scholarships when you’re already in school; you can even apply for scholarships and receive financial aid mid-term. If you need help with your education expenses, search for opportunities on sites like FastWeb or Scholarships.com. With these sites, you can create a profile and get matched to potential scholarships. They have millions of scholarships in their databases, so you can apply for multiple awards. 

6. Contact NonProfit Organizations

In response to the pandemic, some nonprofits have launched emergency relief funds to help people financially impacted by COVID-19, including programs specifically designed for college students.

Organizations like United Way have created funds to help college students pay for housing, food, school expenses, and even laptops for distance-learning. 

To find out if resources exist in your state, visit 211.org or dial 2-1-1. A representative will connect you to local resources in your area. 

7. Consider Private Student Loans

If you’ve exhausted all grant and scholarship opportunities and are ineligible for additional federal student loans, private student loans can be a useful tool for student loan borrowers to finance the rest of their education.

With private student loans, you can borrow up to 100% of the total cost of attendance from a lender, giving you the money you need to pay for your tuition and room and board.

Right now, interest rates on private student loans are quite low, making it more affordable to borrow money. And, you can choose a repayment plan and loan term that works for you and your budget. 

With Earnest, you can get a rate quote in as little as two minutes, and checking your rate doesn’t affect your credit score. 

Paying for College

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted high school and current college students as their families may have experienced substantial reductions in income. If your financial situation has worsened because of coronavirus, know that there are programs in place that can help. If you’re considering a gap year, putting off enrollment, or dropping out of school due to cost, contact your financial aid office right away — there may be solutions in place that can help you stay in college and get your degree.

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Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.