This post was updated on February 12, 2021. It was originally published on May 19, 2020.
Repercussions of the Pandemic: College Enrollment and Financial Aid
In a Discover survey from the early stages of the pandemic, 48% of parents said they lost income, and 44% said they were not able to pay for college with the amount they originally planned.
Combine the financial turmoil and apprehension of these families with colleges scrambling to put contingency plans in place, and it’s not much of a shock to find out that undergraduate enrollment declined across the board by 3.6% in 2020.
Although the job market and economy have started to rebound and colleges have gotten a better handle on things, there is still a great deal of uncertainty regarding the future. Both families and schools are still very much experiencing the financial fallout of COVID-19.
Silver Linings: FAFSA Awareness and The Rise of the Appeal
The survey mentioned above found that nearly 40% of parents who didn’t plan to apply for federal aid decided to do so as a result of the pandemic. Many families are also realizing the power of the financial aid appeal: the number of financial aid appeals is expected to rise dramatically for 2021.
Good news: the US Department of Education has already made available $21.2 billion out of the $22.7 billion allocated to public and not-for-profit colleges/universities in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. Some of this money is specifically earmarked for student aid.
If your family’s financial situation has changed drastically due to the financial crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be wondering how that impacts your ability to qualify for scholarships, grants, work-study, and student loans.
Whether or not you’ve filled out financial aid applications like the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or College Scholarship Service (CSS) Profile, you can still take some additional steps to get financial help for the 2021-2022 academic year!
If You’ve Already Filled Out Financial Aid Applications
FAFSA: How much financial aid you qualify for depends largely on your expected family contribution (EFC) calculated by the FAFSA. Many parents don’t realize, however, that you can request more financial aid even if you have already filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is useful if your family’s finances have changed due to events like job loss, furlough, or medical expenses.
Unfortunately, you cannot make corrections online that reflect financial changes in your family after you filed the FAFSA. Instead, you should inform your school’s financial aid office of the hardship and file for an award letter appeal.
CSS Profile: Although processes vary by school, you may have the ability to easily update your CSS profile with your family’s new financial situation. Be sure to contact your school’s financial aid office to find out what you need to do.
Why You Should Appeal for More Aid
Colleges need to fill seats every year. Filling seats for this upcoming school year will once again be more challenging as students hesitate to enroll or change their plans as the pandemic lingers. With enrollment in all likelihood falling again in 2021, some schools are more willing to give aid—and give it in creative ways.
Furthermore, families who already filled out financial aid applications completed the documents with their 2019 tax information! A lot can happen in that time. Combine this with the financial impact of the pandemic, and you have a lot of families who will qualify for more aid if they only reach out!
At the very least, contact the school(s) financial aid office and learn what the process is for appeal.
Here are some awesome tips for writing a good appeal letter.
If You Have Not Filled Out Financial Aid Applications
Fortunately, there is still time to fill out and submit the FAFSA. The federal deadline for the school year 2021-2022 is not until June 30, 2022, and there are still many states and schools whose deadlines haven’t passed. You can find a list of state deadlines here.
You’ll be asked to provide income information and tax returns from 2019 when filling out the FAFSA for the 2021-2022 academic year. Since that data most likely does not reflect your current situation, the U.S. Department of Education recommends that you still submit your FAFSA but immediately contact your school’s financial aid office to explain your current situation.
Since some financial aid is awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, or from programs with limited funds, the earlier families fill out the FAFSA, the better the chances of receiving certain types of aid.
Even if you don’t think you will qualify for need-based aid, it is still a good idea to submit the form. At the very least, you will become eligible for federal unsubsidized loans. Undergraduate direct loans taken out before July 1, 2021, have 2.75% interest rates—down from 4.53%.
Stay In Contact With Your School’s Financial Aid Office
Keep in mind that in both scenarios, you may be asked to provide documentation that outlines your financial hardships.
It is important to keep in contact with your school’s financial aid office leading up to the start of the fall semester.
Contrary to popular belief, many financial aid decisions are made by your school, not the federal government. Now more than ever, universities have been empowered to make decisions that benefit the neediest students.
Make sure to check school websites to see how they are disbursing emergency aid from the federal government. Note that the amount of aid available may be even more erratic from school to school as they deal with budgetary issues in various ways and receive different amounts of funding from the federal government.
It’s important to reiterate that you should determine each school’s appeal process and notify the financial aid office as soon as you can! Even if you have not suffered a big financial change, it’s still possible that you will receive more aid given the current climate.
The worst that can happen is that the college financial aid office says no.
Getting Help from The College Funding Coach
Navigating the financial aid process can be confusing, even without a global pandemic in the mix.
If you have more questions about financial aid and financial planning, please consider registering for one of our upcoming webinars to learn more.