Personal Finance

3 Decisions College Students Should Consider During the Pandemic.

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To mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, college administrators across the U.S. have been forced to alter the way classes will be offered. While some colleges have chosen to conduct classes fully in person or primarily in person, others will go fully online or combine the two with a hybrid model.

Various institutions planning to go online are reducing students’ tuition rates and fees accordingly.

Others, however, are not.

Are You Paying for an Experience that Doesn’t Exist?

There’s no question that a college education encompasses more than just the education itself. It also includes the entire “college experience”– career and research opportunities, collegiate sports, social events (read: parties), and forming bonds that will last a lifetime.

But, if students are unable to take advantage of these opportunities, does it make financial sense for them (or their parents) to still pay the same pre-pandemic tuition? We think not.

In this article, we’ll highlight some alternatives to the traditional college experience so you (or your parents) can decide how to finance your education strategically.

Alternative #1 – Take a Gap Year

A gap year is time away from formal studies to focus on experiential learning. This can include a job that isn’t related to your major or an apprenticeship to help you gain career experience. Some gap year ideas include volunteering at a non-profit, securing an internship at a business, or even helping to homeschool kids on Zoom.

Why a Gap Year Can Be Advantageous

The purpose of a gap year is to get real-world experience, whether that means professional experience or just practical life experience. During this time, you won’t pay in-person tuition for an online education, and you can garner real-world experience to add to your resume. Gap years can also help you gain clarification on your career goals. If you’re getting paid for your gap-year experience, you can also save that income for when campus reopens. Be sure to use a high-yield savings account like our High Yield Savings to get better returns.

What to Do Next

Talk to college staff about admission deferrals. Some institutions do not honor deferral requests, but others do (potentially with the forfeiture of any fees you’ve already paid). If that’s the case, decide if taking a gap year is worth losing that money or your admissions spot.

Alternative #2 – Take Prerequisites at a Community College

If you aren’t keen on the idea of pausing your formal studies for a year, consider staying home to take prerequisites online at a community college. On average, community college tuition is lower than traditional universities and colleges. It may even be cheaper now with online-only classes. You’d also save thousands more by not paying room and board fees.

Why Consider Community College?

Taking prereqs online through a community college will not only save you (or your parents) money, but it will also ensure that your educational path continues uninterrupted. Credits for community college courses can transfer to the school of your choice once it’s open for in-person learning.

Next Steps:

Once again, you’ll need to talk to your school about deferring admission. Also, find out if credits from your community college will transfer. Some universities will not accept transfer credits, and others might – with limitations. Do your research and plan accordingly.

Alternative #3 – Choose a Different Living Situation

If you’re still planning to go off for college, consider skipping the dorm. While dining halls, dorm rooms, and community rooms may be pillars of the “college experience,” they’re also known breeding grounds for contagious illnesses. Instead of on-campus housing, many students share apartment or houses with friends. By skipping traditional on-campus housing, you can escape the crowds and decrease expenses.

The Case for Off-Campus Housing

The average annual cost per student just for room and board is $11,510 at public universities and $12,990 at private schools. The average rent for an apartment in the U.S. is $1,463 per month. If you grab three friends and share the apartment, your annual housing expenses would shrink to an average of $4,389. Costs can be cut further by preparing your own meals. And as an added bonus, you may be able to split some of your expenses with your roommates.

Consider Staying at Home

If your campus is going 100% online, think about staying home. Once again, it carries much less risk during the pandemic, and you’ll get the same online education without the higher price tag. Take the money you would’ve spent on housing and put it toward student fees when campuses safely reopen.

What to Do Next

Find out if you can cancel your reservation for dorm residency. Be sure you know (and have proof of) your cancellation requirements and terms beforehand. Never assume there will be no fallout for not showing up. Many colleges are currently helping students find emergency off-campus housing; find out if yours is one of them.

Making Change Work for You

It’s not easy to adjust plans when things go awry with little warning. Remember to stay calm, optimistic, and smart. It’s important to recognize which aspects of your college education you can control, and which ones you cannot. Focus on what will be best for you and your finances, both now and long-term.

Be sure to open a checking account with a debit card to manage your money, and get a savings account started to get a jump on saving money for your books, registration fees, and other expenses. Balancing your education, safety, and finances now will ensure that your future is bright, secure, and something you can really be proud of.

3 Decisions College Students Should Consider During the Pandemic

This blog post was published by Axos Bank on August 28, 2020 and last updated on April 28, 2020.

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