Sending your child off to college in a pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc with just about everything in our lives. With fall rapidly approaching, many parents and their college-bound children have some tough decisions to make, particularly if their school is planning on opening its classrooms and dormitories. 


While some schools have announced their plans for the fall, many haven’t ironed out all the details. Some are planning on opening, but with reduced residency and classroom sizes. Others are going fully remote. Still others are offering hybrid options, with a little of both. Let’s examine some of the key questions and considerations for both freshmen and returning students. 

What are the school’s social distancing policies and how will they be enforced?

Keeping your child safe and healthy is your primary concern. The American College Health Association has released guidance on what schools should do to help protect their students. But how will your child’s college enforce them? Some colleges plan to limit dormitory occupancy and classroom size. But what about social activities? How often will they do testing? It’s vital for you to have a discussion with your child that stresses the importance of social distancing, wearing a mask, and handwashing. 

Are remote-only or hybrid colleges offering discounts for tuition or room and board costs?

This past spring when the pandemic shut most states down, some schools offered prorated refunds on room and board. Hardly any provided tuition rebates, but what if your child’s school is offering all or a majority of classes remotely? Should you pay the full tuition, considering your student won’t be using its facilities? Tuition payments are typically required by August 1, or thereabouts, so this’ll be an important decision day. 

Have you had changes to your financial situation?

If you or your spouse has lost your job, it could certainly affect your ability to pay for a college education. If your child has committed to a school, contact the institution to find out how it can help you afford the cost, particularly because need-based financial aid for the upcoming year is based on income information from the 2018 tax year. Your child may also be eligible for an emergency relief student grant that’s part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a stimulus bill passed by Congress in March.

Also to keep in mind: If your child is depending on a work-study program to help pay for schooling, note that the CARES Act temporarily suspended the requirement that colleges match the money provided by the government for work-study programs. Contact the school to see what opportunities it has, especially as many businesses are slow to reopen.

What is the quality of the online classes being offered?

Many students were unhappy with the switch to online classes during the spring semester. The pandemic caught most educators by surprise, and they didn’t have the time to adjust their subject matter to take best advantage of the remote experience. How different will they be in the fall? What about tutoring or other academic needs? How will your college address these concerns?

Should your child take a gap year?

If your child has decided to wait out a year—or is considering taking classes at a local community college—be sure to consider how it may affect financial aid in future years. Colleges often make less aid available for transfer students. Also, be sure to check on whether any scholarships and grants will be available when your child returns from his or her gap year.

To keep yourself informed

While there might be more questions than answers, it’s important to keep in touch with your child’s school. Additionally, there are a number of websites that are worth checking out for more details as you navigate your decisions.

For help with your college planning decisions, don’t forget to contact your financial professional, who can tailor a plan that helps meet your needs.