Our College & COVID-19 series is part of our commitment to students and families during this time of uncertainty. Our goal with this series is to provide the resources, information, and guidance you need to help you successfully continue your college journey.
The coronavirus pandemic has brought about unprecedented challenges for students and their families. Your family’s financial situation, and your own, may be substantially different from when you filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form for the 2020 – 2021 school year. Here are some resources that could help you and your family address any changes to your financial situation.
Complete the FAFSA form, if you haven’t already
Whether you’re a high school senior heading to college or a returning college student, you probably completed your FAFSA form and received your SAR (Student Aid Report).
If you have not completed the FAFSA form, you still can, even if your financial situation has changed since filing your most recent individual income tax return. The U.S. Department of Education advises you to “complete the FAFSA questions as instructed on the application, submit your FAFSA form, then contact the school you plan to attend and discuss your current situation with the financial aid office.”
To learn more about the FAFSA and where it fits in your overall plan to pay for college, check out Your 5-step Guide to Paying for College. The article provides an overview on applying for financial aid and scholarships, and information on the cost of college and private student loans.
Know that you can only update the basics on the FAFSA form
Most information on your FAFSA form cannot be updated once you’ve submitted it — the U.S. Department of Education guidelines specify that the information must reflect income reported on the previous year’s tax returns. For example, if you spent some of your savings after filing the FAFSA form, you cannot update your information to show a change in that amount.
So, after you have signed and submitted your FAFSA form, you can only update basics such as your contact information, the number of people in your household, your marital status, and which schools you want to have access to your FAFSA.
Contact your school’s financial aid office
If you had planned to attend a certain university or college, but the costs are now out of reach, contact the school’s financial aid office or visit their website to see what may still be possible.
Many universities have created online resources for coronavirus-related financial aid requests. You can also contact the financial aid officers at your chosen school, including via email, to alert them about changes to your financial situation and to see if they can help. Many of these professionals are available to answer your questions and help you stay on track toward your graduation goals.
CollegeSTEPS has additional recommendations on comparing and appealing financial aid offers, and on action steps if your financial aid award changes from past years’ awards.
Investigate other alternatives
High school students, if your financial situation has changed, and your chosen school is unwilling or unable to restructure your financial aid, you may want to revisit other schools that accepted you for admission. Is there a school closer to home where you might end up spending less on travel or housing? How about a school that is willing to restructure financial aid for you to keep costs within your reach? You can easily compare total college costs by using a tool such as Net Price Calculator (NPC) or Tuition Tracker. For more details about how to research, compare, and choose what’s right for you, see our story on the financial impacts of changing your college plans.