How COVID-19 Will Affect College Admissions and Loan Availability

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 9/01/20

There’s no doubt about it: We live in uncertain times. The COVID-19 pandemic took the nation and the world by surprise. Many college students were sent home early to finish their school year remotely, missing the tradition of graduation and much more.

If you are looking to enroll in college in the fall of 2020 and beyond, you likely have many questions about what will change and what to expect. In this article, we offer the latest information about changes to admissions policies and financial aid.

Are Admissions Due Dates the Same?

Those entering college in the fall of 2020 have likely already received their acceptance. Students typically complete their college application submissions by March, which was right before the country began shutting down.

Since the shutdown, however, there have been some delays in notifying students of acceptances, and many schools have been extending the deadline by which students must put down a deposit and declare their intent to enroll. That deadline, usually May 1 for most schools, has been extended to June 1 or later. Not all schools have made such an extension.

The next major round of college applications will begin this fall, with early decision applications typically due in November. Since every school is different, we recommend regularly checking in with your dream college’s admissions office for due date changes. As for spring deadlines and beyond, this simply can’t be predicted yet.

If you are now unsure of the original schools you applied to because of their policies on conducting classes online or any other matter, you can check out the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s page on college openings for a list of colleges that are still accepting applications for the fall of 2020. More schools than usual are on the list this year due to COVID-19.

How Have Admissions Requirements Changed?

With COVID-19 leading to the closing of many schools and moving education online, many high schoolers will now have a semester’s worth of pass/fail grades in place of letter grades as schools make efforts not to disadvantage students who struggle to access remote education. Since this is happening in many places, it is unlikely to make a difference to any admissions department.

In addition, many students have had their SAT and ACT tests canceled, and as of now, it is uncertain if testing will proceed as scheduled in the fall. In response, many colleges and universities are suspending the requirement of SAT and ACT scores through the fall of 2021 admissions and beyond. To see which schools are waiving this requirement or making it optional, check out the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which keeps a list of testing policies for schools.

For those who use the Common App to apply to multiple colleges, they now offer the opportunity to include a statement about how COVID-19 has affected them. In general, you can expect personal statements and letters of recommendation to become more important as admissions departments try to look for indicators beyond test scores and grades earned during a pandemic.

Can I Defer Enrollment?

With a lot of uncertainty as to what school will look like this fall, and some schools already announcing they will remain fully remote, many students are wondering if they can defer enrollment or take a gap year to wait out the virus and start school under more standard conditions.

If you have been accepted to the school that you wish to attend this fall and want to know if you can wait a year, your best bet is to contact the admissions office. Some schools already allowed students to defer enrollment even before the pandemic, and many schools are making this an option where it wasn’t before. However, some schools will not make this concession, which is why you should check.

If the school you planned on attending will not defer your enrollment, you can choose to take a gap year, but you will need to reapply in the future to attend.

Has COVID-19 Affected the Availability of Student Loans?

With the passage of the CARES Act, $6 billion in funding was freed up for colleges and universities to distribute as emergency cash grants to students whose lives and finances were disrupted by COVID-19. It’s difficult to say if any similar funding might appear in the fall of 2020 or beyond.

The nice thing about grants is that they don’t have to be repaid. When scholarships and grants are exhausted, however, most students apply for federal student loans. At present, nothing has changed about the federal student loan program other than the fact that repayment and interest has been frozen through the end of September on all such loans. You can still take out loans in the same amounts as before.

In fact, federal student loan interest rates will be at an all-time low for those borrowing for school this fall. 

  • Rates on undergraduate federal loans are dropping from 4.53% to 2.75%.
  • Rates on graduate federal loans are dropping from 6.08% to 4.30%.
  • Rates on PLUS loans are dropping from 7.08% to 5.30%.

When it comes to private student loans, it is likely those will see lower rates as well, but the terms and conditions associated with federal student loans make them preferable, and you should generally plan to turn to private student loans only if absolutely necessary to bridge a funding gap. 

The Shift to Online 

The educational landscape changed drastically in many places when the pandemic hit. Schools from preschool through graduate school moved to online or distance learning. Many colleges closed down, sending students home to finish out the year through the internet.

This change may persist in some places through the fall of 2020 or even beyond. In addition to moving learning online, many other events have been moved online, as well. Many colleges are not allowing campus visits but instead creating the ability to take a “virtual tour” from home. Several schools have also moved freshmen orientation events online. 

Deciding whether to roll with these changes or wait them out is a personal, and possibly financial, decision. Check with your school’s admissions office to find out how much of your first-year college experience might take place from home instead of on-campus. If this is important to you, consider taking a gap year.

How COVID-19 Affects College Budgets

Many colleges have had their budgets impacted considerably by the pandemic. Enrollment is expected to go down, they’ve had to implement a lot of last-minute changes, and many are facing budget cuts at the state level. 

Not only that, but many campuses that had to send dormitory students home early had to issue prorated refunds, taking money out of their budget they hadn’t planned for.

Although the CARES Act did release funds to help cushion the financial fall, some schools are less able to handle the financial toll than others. Because of this, you may see tuition rise in some places, and you may also see a reduction in merit- and need-based aid provided by the school.

How COVID-19 Affects Student Financial Need

Loss of income might mean fewer students applying in the next round to colleges, as families face financial hardships, but it might also result in a boost in enrollment in some places, which often happens during a recession.

The odds are that student financial need is going to be greater. Those who have filled out their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the upcoming school year may need to contact their school’s financial aid office, especially since the FAFSA is based on prior-year tax returns and may not reflect the student’s current financial situation since the pandemic.

Your school’s financial aid office should be able to work with you to arrange for additional funding in the form of grants or loans as needed. 

Stay Informed About College Admissions

The COVID-19 pandemic has, no doubt, affected some students more than others. At, we want to help you stay up to date about any changes in the admissions and financial aid landscape. Our goal is to help you make informed choices as you plan for, enroll in, and pay for college.