Tips for H.S. Juniors, Seniors & Student Loan Borrowers Navigating COVID-19 | My College Corner
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Junior/Senior/Borrower Advice

Tips for H.S. Juniors, Seniors & Student Loan Borrowers Navigating COVID-19

Apr 14, 2020

Coronavirus changed our lives. That unseen, microscopic organism is also fundamentally changing the landscape for student loan borrowers and high school juniors and seniors.  Let’s take a look at the unchartered paths they are navigating to apply, enter, and pay for college.

Student Loan Borrowers

From the minute they signed their Promissory Notes, student loan borrowers entered the world of details and processes that too often lead to confusion and misunderstandings.  Here’s what’s relevant for borrowers in the world of COVID-19:

  • Student loan payment relief programs are different for federal and private loans. Private loan providers such as banks, credit unions, states and credit card companies are not required to follow the federal relief program. Contact your lender if you have a loan from anyone other than the federal government.  If you don’t know who your lender is, contact your student loan servicer for information about your loan.
  • For federal student loan borrowers, the government automatically set the interest rate to zero (0%) and stopped requiring any payments for the period March 13th through September 30th. 

Notice the words “automatically” and “most.”

  • Automatically:  Borrowers do not have to take any action: their loans are automatically set at 0% interest and payments are not required.
  • Most: Unfortunately, only Federal Direct Student Loans and Perkins Loans owned by the federal government qualify for the 0% interest rate and automatic deferral. Perkins Loans owned by a college and Federal Family Education Loan Program loans by banks or do not qualify.

Tips for student loan borrowers:

  1. If you have any questions about who owns your loan or if your loans qualify for the federal relief program, contact your student loan servicer immediately. 
  2. If possible, continue to make the payments on federal loans.  With a 0% interest rate, the entire payment will be used to reduce the principal amount of the loan. The total cost of the loan and the time it takes to repay the loan will be reduced.
  3. These programs are changing.  This link to the Department of Education is a good source of information about current programs to help federal student loan borrowers during the COVID crisis. 

High School Juniors

In the old pre-Corona world, high school juniors would be entering a period of increasing anxiety and anticipation as they sit for exams, visit colleges and begin the college application process. 

In the new Corona world, there are already significant changes to that process:

  • College visits: With campuses closed, colleges are offering online information sessions, virtual tours and one-on-one sessions for prospective students.
  • Admissions tests:  Future SAT (and Subject Tests) and ACT exams are subject to cancellation.  For the most up-to-date information check:
    • The College Board for SAT and SAT Subject Tests.  In addition to rescheduling dates in the late summer and fall, the College Board plans to offer digital in-home exams.
    • The ACT for information about the ACT exam. 

FairTest reports that more than 1,100 colleges are currently Test-Optional. Some colleges have recently joined this list in response to COVID-19.  Others will likely join as they re-evaluate their admission criteria and how they will market themselves to prospective students. Here is a list of Test Optional colleges as reported by FairTest.

Tips for Juniors:

  • Monitor these SAT and ACT websites for news about the upcoming test dates and new accommodations such as at-home digital testing.
  • With more time on your hands, study for the exams using the free online free test-prep available on the SAT and ACT websites.
  • Start your college search a little earlier.  Be sure to frequently check the websites of colleges on your list and participate in their virtual tours, online info sessions and other activities they are offering.
  • Remember, the colleges may be more anxious than you.  Why? Their business model is threatened. You have more than 5,000 schools from which to choose.  Colleges are dependent on your application to ensure that they can pay the bills. 

High School Seniors

Wow.  Talk about unfair. The big drum roll to their walk across the graduation stage will not be what they have been dreaming about for the last 12 years. While students are processing the new reality, administrators struggle to properly celebrate the seniors’ achievements. Meanwhile, colleges are altering their process for receiving next year’s freshman class.  It’s pretty much like trying to build an airplane while it is flying.

Some colleges are:

  • Extending the deadline for deposits to secure a place in next year’s class
  • Separating the tuition deposit from the housing deposit
  • Lowering the amount of the required deposit

All colleges are scrambling. In a very short period, they had to:

  • Safely close their dorms and campuses
  • Establish remote learning platforms and grading policies for current students
  • Consider how to handle:
    • The fall freshman class
    • Summer programs 
  • Consider the possibility that the fall semester may be impaired as well

Some seniors are considering a gap year by deferring their admission for another year.  In the past, gap years were taken by a small percentage of students who were interested in earning money, traveling, or participating in a particular program before going to college.  MyCollegeCorner.com published these articles about gap years.

Gap years can be excellent opportunities for many students, but this is a different year.  For those considering gap years for the next academic year remember that:

  • Colleges have to approve gap year requests. Students do not have a unilateral right to inform the school that they are deferring their admission for one year.
  • Some colleges may grant gap year requests and permit students to enroll in the following fall.  Others require students to re-apply if they decide to take a gap year after being admitted.
  • Colleges manage the gap year requests carefully to ensure that their net tuition revenue is not impacted by too many requests.

In the new COVID-19 world, students may not have the same gap year options that were previously available.  Jobs, travel, and programs may be curtailed, and colleges may be less inclined to grant gap year requests.

Tips for Seniors:

  • Check-in with your college online or by calling to see if they have changed the deposit deadline or requirements.
  • For those now considering gap years:
    • Contact your college to ask about their gap year policies and procedures.
    • Create a viable plan and line-up the job, travel, or particular program as soon as possible. 

In these extraordinary times, communication becomes increasingly important because circumstances and reactions to them change quickly.  If you have any questions, be sure to reach out online or directly to your student loan servicer, college, or high school sooner rather than later.    

Updated: April 17, 2020
By: John Hupalo