How to pay for college without going broke during coronavirus

7 Ways to Pay for College During the COVID Pandemic

How to pay for college without going broke during coronavirus

With COVID-19 having such a devastating impact on the economy, many students are reconsidering their higher education plans. According to a recent survey, four-year colleges may experience enrollment declines, as 13% of college students consider dropping out due to the coronavirus crisis. 

While safety is a major concern, another factor affecting college admissions and students’ enrollment is college cost. With financial aid, one of the biggest issues is the information you’re required to submit on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The FAFSA uses financial information for your financial aid package from two years prior — the 2020-2021 FAFSA required applicants to enter their 2018 tax return information — which can be incredibly outdated for borrowers, especially in light of the coronavirus pandemic.


If you are struggling to pay for college due to the COVID-19 pandemic, here are seven ways to get the money you need for school. 

1. Appeal Your Financial Aid Decision

If your financial situation has substantially changed since 2018, you may be eligible for additional federal aid this academic year.

You can submit a financial assistance appeal to request more aid if you or your parents lost their jobs, incurred major medical expenses, if a parent passed away, or you had some other occurrence that significantly reduced your household income.

Since millions of people lost their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic, many students may be able to appeal their financial aid awards. 

Contact your school’s financial aid office and ask what their appeals process is. The process can vary from school to school; some schools allow you to submit a letter explaining your situation, while others have particular forms you need to complete. 

When appealing a financial aid decision, it’s important to submit the appeal as soon as possible to improve your chances of getting extra aid. Schools may have additional grants and awards to give out, but they’re often distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. 

2. Apply for Federal COVID-19 Emergency Grants

Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, the federal government provided funding to universities and colleges to give emergency relief to students affected by the pandemic.

If you qualify for a grant, you can use the money to pay for essential expenses, such as food, housing, course materials, healthcare, and child care. Because the funds are a grant — a form of gift aid — they do not have to be repaid.  

You cannot apply for a grant directly from the US Department of Education. Instead, contact your school financial aid office and ask about available grants and federal financial aid. Each school is responsible for deciding its eligibility criteria and grant amounts, so a financial aid representative can explain what you need to do to apply and how much you could receive. 

3. Work Remotely

Working and earning an income while in school can be an excellent way to offset your education expenses and gain valuable experience — and build your professional network.

While on-campus work-study, retail, and food service jobs may be limited due to the pandemic, you can still make money remotely.

For example, these are different ways you can make money off-campus to help cover the cost of college tuition:

  • Grocery delivery
  • Online transcription
  • Online tutoring
  • Pet sitting
  • Social media management
  • Virtual assistant work
  • Virtual customer service

With these types of jobs, you can set your own schedule and work when it’s convenient for you. Using your earnings to pay for a portion of your education expenses can reduce your need for financial aid or taking on student loan debt.

4. Ask for Emergency Assistance

Some schools are offering their own emergency assistance programs to students struggling to make ends meet. 

For example, the University of Central Florida allowed students to defer tuition for the fall semester and housing payments until later in the term. And, the state university created a Short Term Advance program, where it advanced up to $600 in financial aid to students so they could buy textbooks and supplies. 

If you can’t afford your housing, textbooks, or other costs, contact the financial aid office or office of residence life to discuss your options before going back to school; you may qualify for help.

5. Search for Scholarship Opportunities

You can apply for scholarships when you’re already in school; you can even apply for scholarships and receive financial aid mid-term.

If you need help with your education expenses, search for opportunities on sites FastWeb or With these sites, you can create a profile and get matched to potential scholarships.

They have millions of scholarships in their databases, so you can apply for multiple awards. 

6. Contact NonProfit Organizations

In response to the pandemic, some nonprofits have launched emergency relief funds to help people financially impacted by COVID-19, including programs specifically designed for college students.

Organizations United Way have created funds to help college students pay for housing, food, school expenses, and even laptops for distance-learning. 

To find out if resources exist in your state, visit or dial 2-1-1. A representative will connect you to local resources in your area. 

7. Consider Private Student Loans

If you’ve exhausted all grant and scholarship opportunities and are ineligible for additional federal student loans, private student loans can be a useful tool for student loan borrowers to finance the rest of their education.

With private student loans, you can borrow up to 100% of the total cost of attendance from a lender, giving you the money you need to pay for your tuition and room and board.

Right now, interest rates on private student loans are quite low, making it more affordable to borrow money. And, you can choose a repayment plan and loan term that works for you and your budget. 

With Earnest, you can get a rate quote in as little as two minutes, and checking your rate doesn’t affect your credit score. 

Paying for College

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted high school and current college students as their families may have experienced substantial reductions in income.

If your financial situation has worsened because of coronavirus, know that there are programs in place that can help.

If you’re considering a gap year, putting off enrollment, or dropping school due to cost, contact your financial aid office right away — there may be solutions in place that can help you stay in college and get your degree.


9 Kinds of COVID-19 Relief for College Students

How to pay for college without going broke during coronavirus

Colleges nationwide have transitioned to online-only learning amid the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re left in the lurch, the federal stimulus provides some student loan relief, but you’ll want to turn to your college for answers, too.

» MORE: College during COVID-19: Your aid questions answered

All students with federal loans qualify to delay payments, interest-free, through Sept. 30, 2021. Some private lenders are offering forbearance as well.

Here is additional financial help for college students that may be available.

1. Independent students can get a stimulus check

Most undergraduate college students did not receive a stimulus check under the original Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, and the same goes for the second coronavirus relief package that passed in December 2020 That’s because your parents might have claimed you as a dependent on their tax return, and dependents didn't qualify.

If someone else claims you on their taxes, you are eligible for the same payment the filer gets. All household members included on a qualifying tax return get a check of up to $1,400.

2. You might qualify for unemployment benefits

If you worked part-time or full-time while enrolled, and you were laid off — or if you’re a gig worker whose work is affected by the pandemic — you may be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Compensation will vary by state. Contact your state’s unemployment office to apply for benefits, usually online or over the phone.

Under the second coronavirus relief package, you may be eligible for additional supplemental unemployment insurance on top of other unemployment benefits.

3. You can still receive federal work-study

If your school or employer closes and you lose your federal work-study job, you may be eligible to receive multiple payments or a one-time full payment for the remaining period you were set to work.

The amount you receive will be your award amount rather than hours worked. Contact your college to find out how they are carrying out this policy.

4. You may get reimbursed if your campus closes housing

If your campus closes due to COVID-19, you may be able to get some of your money back. In spring 2020 most schools reimbursed students for some of their non-tuition costs, such as housing, meals and facility fees.

Don’t count on a tuition discount if your college switches to online learning. But ask about potential refunds for classes that can’t be held remotely, such as physical fitness or hands-on lab courses.

Getting a reimbursement will be similar to returning a purchase — you’re either going to get a credit to use for a future payment to the school or a direct refund, and it all depends on the school’s policy.

Any amount you receive back into your account or as a future credit will be prorated, meaning you’ll receive a portion of the overall costs you paid according to how much time is left in the semester.

You can keep refunds from unused loans, but it’s still borrowed money you have to repay. Consider returning those funds to your lender, especially if you have an unsubsidized federal loan, PLUS loan or a private loan, which all accrue interest while you’re in school.

Check with your school’s financial aid office if you have questions.

5. You could stay on campus if you have nowhere to go

If your school closes campus in spring 2021 and the dorm is your primary residence, contact your college housing and financial aid offices to find out your options for remaining on campus.

During the spring and fall 2020 semesters, colleges made concessions for students with extenuating circumstances, such as those who are low-income, homeless or are international students from countries with travel restrictions.

Your school may keep a certain portion of housing open, but contact your school’s housing office to find out if meal services will continue and about your options for food.

6. Emergency aid may be available

Colleges may have emergency funds already available, and the third coronavirus relief package provides funding to colleges specifically designated for emergency financial aid.

As part of the most recent aid package, the Department of Education is giving $40 billion to colleges.

Colleges must use some at least half of the funds mandated by the relief package to provide emergency aid to students experiencing a qualifying emergency due to COVID-19. This could include emergency grants, loans, scholarships or vouchers to cover expenses related to schooling and housing.

7. Loan and Pell Grant limits are waived

For those whose schools closed due to the coronavirus, both relief packages call for colleges to waive lifetime limits on certain aid, including Pell Grants. That means any federal direct loan or Pell Grant money you used for school in the spring or fall semesters won’t count toward your lifetime limit for either aid type.

8. You can get discounted broadband access

If you're a college student with financial need, you could get a discount on broadband.

 A new measure in the second coronavirus relief package authorizes a discount off normal broadband rates of up to $50 per month for households with at least one person receiving reduced or free school lunch benefits, unemployment benefits, a Pell Grant or any other need-based financial aid from the federal government or state.

9. You can apply for more financial aid

You can request more financial aid even if you have already filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This is useful if your family’s finances have changed due to events job loss or medical expenses.

To update the FAFSA, sign in to and click on “Make FAFSA Correction.” Enter your FSA ID, make changes and submit. You can make changes up until the FAFSA deadline — June 30 after the school year you need aid. So if you need more aid to help out with expenses this school year, you have until June 30, 2021, to do it.

You can also contact your school’s financial aid office with your request for more aid via email or phone. Include a request for a specific additional sum you’ll need and supporting documents.


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