Newsflash: College has become a buyer's market for the 2020-2021 school year.
Crazy, right? You've spent the last several years figuring out how to get into your college of choice, just hoping and praying that you'd receive that coveted letter of acceptance. Now, thanks to COVID-19, it seems the tables have turned.
Colleges need your tuition dollars
Colleges need money to operate, just like every other business. Because of the pandemic, many colleges and universities are forecasting decreased enrollment for the fall semester. Fewer students means less revenue.
Right now, some schools are going to extreme lengths to secure your enrollment. According to an article in The Washington Post, colleges are offering all manner of unusual incentives to entice students to make deposits for the fall. Some examples:
- Priority class registration.
- Options for premium dorm rooms.
- Free online summer classes to earn extra credits.
- No-fee enrollment.
- Free room and board.
- Free parking.
- Free tickets to campus football games.
- Autographed books from well-known faculty.
- Free tuition for low-income families.
- Additional financial aid for families with higher incomes.
It's a bidding war over students
Believe it or not, the pandemic isn't the only cause of this free-for-all in college recruitment. You can also thank the Department of Justice (DOJ). In 2019, it ordered college admissions officers to modify practices related to poaching students that have already committed to other schools. Previously, schools were prohibited from pursuing students who had accepted enrollment elsewhere.
With the Class of 2020, those restrictions are no longer in place.
Of course, the timing for this change couldn't have come at a better time for colleges that are desperate for students. With the prior restraints lifted, many schools are taking the opportunity to reach out to students who applied earlier in the year but ultimately decided to go elsewhere.
How to make this work for you
Now, the big question: How can you take advantage of some of these deals?
1. Hold off on sending your deposit
If you haven't already sent in your deposit, give it a little more time. In fact, it's wise to get in touch with the school and ask for an extension. Colleges are more likely to sweeten the pot for students who are still undecided.
2. Don't be shy about asking for more aid
Your financial aid award letter is not carved in stone. While your federal financial aid is determined by your family's income, schools often award other types of financial aid —generally referred to as merit aid — based on academic performance, leadership, or other criteria determined by the institution.
Merit aid is often distributed through the admissions department rather than the financial aid office. It's worth contacting admissions and directly asking for additional funds.
If your family's financial situation has changed since you filled out the FAFSA, you can and should contact the financial aid office immediately to request more financial assistance.
3. Let schools know you're comparing offers
Remember, you're in the power position. It's perfectly acceptable (this year, or any year, in fact) to let schools know what other offers you're considering. Colleges may be eager for the chance to match or improve upon other offers.
You can also see what kinds of offers schools are making to other students using a new online tool called TuitionFit. This tool is compiling financial aid award offers from students and schools all over the country to increase transparency about the actual cost of college.