Student News

Coronavirus Impacts FAFSA Applications, College Enrollment

Colleges and financial aid officers see a drop in numbers, thanks to Coronavirus.

Kathryn Knight Randolph

May 14, 2020

Coronavirus Impacts FAFSA Applications, College Enrollment
As states across the country begin the initial stages of reopening, many students are still reeling from the complete derailment of best laid plans brought on by the Coronavirus outbreak. The epidemic spread quickly throughout the country at a pretty crucial time. Students lost out on more than prom and graduation ceremonies, although those were terrible losses in and of themselves. They also lost access to guidance counselors and community programming that would enable them to fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Parents delayed filing taxes thanks to the government extension. But biggest and most important of all, millions of Americans lost their jobs – many of whom are college students or parents struggling to pay for tuition. Looking for more COVID-19 student-impact information? Find it here. So, what does all of this mean as we look ahead to the next school year? Numbers are beginning to roll in, and the Coronavirus has definitely taken its toll on the college admissions and financial aid process. Take a look.

FAFSA Applications Down Year-Over-Year

According to Education Week, only 52% of the Class of 2020 has completed the FAFSA as of May 1. In higher income cities and schools, those numbers are down 2% year-over-year; whereas in low-income neighborhoods and schools, FAFSA applications are actually down 4%. During a typical school year, students, especially those in low-income areas, can tap into resources to help them complete the FAFSA. Guidance counselors and mentors at the high school can walk students and their parents through the application together. Many communities host FAFSA completion nights at libraries or school gymnasiums in order to provide assistance on completing the form. On top of school being cancelled and students left without their guidance counselors, springtime in-person FAFSA events were not held anywhere in the United States as well. The lack of access to FAFSA help is undoubtedly why we’re seeing the numbers trending downward. Fortunately, many states have extended the FASFA deadlines in order to accommodate for the Coronavirus as it has no doubt impacted family income circumstances as well as employment. To see if your state has extended its deadline, click here.

Unclaimed Financial Aid Dollars

Given that less students are applying for financial aid through the FAFSA this year, many experts worry that millions of financial aid dollars will be left on the table. In an interview with Education Week, Mike Magee, the CEO of Chiefs for Change, stated that students who have not filed the FAFSA may miss out on up to $105 million in financial aid if they don’t take advantage of the financial aid deadline extensions. Many school districts are offering help to students virtually. Some schools are providing online FAFSA events in order to help students through the process. Organizations like Chiefs for Change are hosting online competitions between school districts in major metropolitan cities to see which can send in the most FAFSA applications. San Antonio school districts are currently leading the race; see where your school stacks up against the competition.

2020 Fall Enrollment Numbers Down

Just like FAFSA applications, fall enrollment numbers are down as well. Given the current economic and societal climate, many students are unsure about whether or not they will begin or return to college in the fall. Essentially, colleges are seeing the domino effect of the Coronavirus: less students applying for financial aid means less students qualify for aid means less students attending college in the fall. However, financial aid isn’t the only reason numbers are down. Many students, when they began the college admissions process, were looking for an opportunity to leave home and get the full college experience. As more and more colleges present their plans for reopening – or in many cases, remaining closed – for the fall, the appeal of college is less enticing. Instead, students are opting for a gap year – or taking general education courses at community colleges with plans to transfer once we “return to normal.” At this time, students are asking themselves why they should pay the high sticker price for a college experience that is extremely limited – or worse, completely online.

Summer Melt, Impact for Students

Given all of the above, the summer melt trend that colleges experience is happening sooner rather than later this year, according to Education Week. Summer melt refers to the time during the summer when students decide not to attend a particular college, thereby “melting” away from that particular school. It affects enrollment numbers, but it also affects financial aid. As students melt away from certain schools, it frees up financial aid dollars for other students. Colleges typically see this trend during the months of June and July, but they are already feeling the summer melt in May – just weeks after National Decision Day, no less. On the bright side, this can be a real advantage for committed students. Those that intend to attend college in the fall can actually call their college’s financial aid office to see if there is any further financial aid available, now that other students may have opted out of attending.

Take Action on Financial Aid

If you’ve made it through the college admissions process as well as the global pandemic undeterred from attending college in the fall, here are a few things you should do to help increase your financial aid package: File the FAFSA. If you are one of the thousands of students that has yet to file the FAFSA, do it right now. Even if you think you don’t qualify for financial aid, this year has proved that you can never assume anything. And given the low FAFSA numbers, there is now over $105 million in financial aid dollars still available to students. Get help. Many students need outside help to file the FAFSA, and it’s more than ok if you are one of them. Though schools and offices are closed, there are a variety of ways and people who want to provide assistance as you navigate the form. FromYourFuture.org provides a great state-by-state list of resources for students that may require help filling out the FAFSA during Coronavirus. Also, contact your school’s guidance counselor by email to let him or her know that you need help. The school may be closed, but they’re still available to help you. As always, studentaid.gov has representatives available to email, talk on the phone or chat when you need help with the form. Call your financial aid office. If you have already filed the FAFSA, now is a great time to call the admissions office to talk about your financial aid package. This is especially true if your family has experienced a change in circumstances, like a job loss or reduction in income. Changes like these can drastically change your financial aid package; now is the time to let them know. These times are undoubtedly confusing, and it is so difficult to make life-changing plans amidst a global pandemic. Fortunately, there are plenty of people and resources that are aiming to help students navigate these times. Take advantage of the help, the extended deadlines, and the millions of dollars in financial aid.

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