COVID-19 Information and Resources

Paying for college during a pandemic

August 4, 2020

Worries about how to pay for college have certainly intensified for many students during the pandemic.

The economic impact is just one of the ripple effects that has left students and their parents wondering about higher education and future career plans. These are very real concerns. However, it is important that students don't allow the pandemic to force them into decisions that could impact the rest of their lives.

Following are some of students' and parents' topics of concern right now when it comes to paying for college

  • Job loss. Unemployment across the country has soared due to layoffs and shutdowns during the pandemic. Students who have lost their job or whose parent(s) lost a job may be worried about their ability to pay for an education. Students in this situation can contact the financial aid office to conduct a financial aid appeal, which will determine if the student is eligible for additional aid.
  • College costs. Additional financial aid may not be available, and students and parents may need to look at other ways to reduce costs. One way to reduce costs could include staying at home (rather than living in a dorm) for a year or two and commuting to campus or taking classes online. Students may also want to look at lower-cost colleges in their community and then transfer to the college of their choice after the pandemic. If that option is chosen, however, students need to make sure any credits they take will transfer.
  • Campus jobs. The number of on-campus job opportunities may be less. However, for those students who qualify, work-study is still an option at many institutions. The federal work-study program provides employment for those students with a demonstrated financial need and students can use the salary earned to help pay for their education. Schools, colleges, and universities are continuing to offer work-study jobs, and the job may be on campus or online. In addition to work-study, there may be other jobs on campus or students can use other off-campus jobs to help fund their education. It may be a somewhat challenging time to look for a job during the pandemic but there are businesses that are hiring.
  • Scholarship opportunities. The competition for scholarships may increase during the pandemic and some of the guidelines for the programs may change. Students should carefully read any new guidelines for scholarships to make sure that complete all the requirements. While some organizations are easing requirements for scholarships under the pandemic, there may be new requirements and procedures. The South Dakota Board of Regent in the spring issued new guidance for the Opportunity Scholarship based on what many students were experiencing during the pandemic.
  • Emergency funds. Depending on the student's situation, they may be eligible for emergency funds if the school offers it. Some emergency fund programs were created when Congress provided funds to higher education institutions and there are other emergency programs that are funded by other sources, such as alumni. If a student believes they might qualify for emergency funds, they should contact the school financial aid office for information and assistance.
  • Withdrawals. Students who are considering withdrawing from school because of costs need to carefully consider this option. Not only could it derail their education and career plans, it could also impact tuition and financial aid. Depending on why and when the student withdraws, the student may still have to pay tuition and return federal financial aid. In addition, if the student has any student loans in the past, they may have to begin repayment after the grace period on their loan ends. In addition, if they decide to return to school later, they will likely have to reapply for admission.
  • Gap year option. Some students may consider a gap year – that is waiting a year after high school to begin any postsecondary pursuit. However, students should carefully consider this option and have a gap year plan. The plan should address how they will use the gap year, including establishing goals for saving money, researching education and career options, a date when they want to begin their education. A concern about gap years is that sometimes students, who don't have a plan, get caught up with a job and don't ever pursue an education, derailing their career dreams.
  • Loans. Loans should always be considered as a last resort to help pay for education after a student exhausts all free sources of funding. The good news is that interest rates on federal student loans has been temporarily placed at 0 percent during the pandemic (currently that is due to expire on Sept. 30, 2020). In addition, when the temporary 0 percent rate expires, rates on federal student loans will be at an historic low – 2.75 percent.

Financial worries during the pandemic can be overwhelming, but delaying a future career by not pursuing postsecondary education is likely only a short-term solution. The best long-term solution is, if possible, to find a way around these obstacles and pursue an education now to achieve career goals.