Whatever Your Online College Life Situation, Here’s How Student Loans Cover Expenses


Going to college from a laptop computer in your childhood bedroom might not be the experience you had in mind.

But just because you don’t live in a dorm this fall doesn’t mean the expense is going away. Your cost of attendance may have changed if you are distance learning due to COVID-19, but colleges will factor in-home or off-campus living expenses into your overall costs.

And you can still use financial aid – including student loans – to pay them off.

How does the cost of participation work

Colleges determine their own tuition fees for each academic year. This amount takes into account all of your direct costs, including tuition, fees, room and meals, as well as estimates for books, supplies, technology, and transportation. Schools often have different tuition fee calculations for students who live in dorms, off campus, or even in another state.

Your financial aid and student loans are applied to tuition and fees first, and then to accommodation and board. Any remaining funds are distributed to you for your living expenses.

Your assistance program may change if your cost of participation changes.

Also see: Coronavirus highlights value of higher education

For example, you can only borrow money up to the full cost of the participation; if this number decreases, the amount you can borrow also decreases. And if part of your aid program is campus life-related and you aren’t, your aid may change.

How the cost of participation is different this year

The cost of attendance is adjusted annually, but some schools are changing their calculations due to the pandemic. For example, Williams College, a private school in Williamstown, Massachusetts, has reduced its tuition fees by 15% for 2020-2021. Williams College provides a hybrid of in-person and distance learning – students can live on campus if they choose.

Schools that go completely remote will have little or no options for on-campus housing. And that could mean going back to your parents or finding off-campus housing.

Your school can break down the tuition fees according to your living situation. Here’s what 2020-21 looks like at the University of California, Berkeley, for example, where students will attend remotely for the start of the fall semester:

  • Living in a university residence: $ 42,460.

  • Living in an apartment on campus: $ 39,876.

  • Living in an off-campus apartment: $ 36,920.

  • Living with parents: $ 29,492.

If your school moves away, the cost of attendance will change for all students. But if you have the choice to go back to campus and stay home, you should let the college know about your plans so your cost can be adjusted.

“It’s actually cheaper if students stay home and take courses remotely,” says William Hudson Jr., vice president of student affairs at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, which is considering a hybrid approach.

Related: These schools have the largest endowments in the country – but they are still raising tuition fees during the COVID pandemic

The cost of attendance is the limit on what you can borrow. Every dollar that you don’t have to borrow is a dollar that you don’t have to pay back, with interest, afterwards. This means that if you stay at home rent-free or share an apartment with others to save on living expenses, you have a head start in the long run.

Here are some possible college lifestyle options you’ll have in the fall and how to pay for them:

Live on campus for in-person or online classes

If your school operates an in-person or hybrid model where you live on campus, your tuition won’t change, which means your financial aid won’t change either.

But your campus could close during the school year due to COVID-19. If this happens, as has happened at many colleges this past spring, your school will likely reimburse a pro-rated amount for non-tuition fees, such as room, board, and facility fees.

Several schools that plan to open in person are also switching to distance education after the Thanksgiving break. Some schools also stagger the move-in dates. These factors could affect the total cost of room and board you pay this semester.

For example, at Penn State University, students will begin the fall semester in person, but switch to distance learning in late November. To reflect this change, the cost of a standard double room was lowered from $ 607 – from $ 3,427 to $ 2,820 – and the mid-level meal plan was lowered from $ 2,449 to $ 2,193.

Live off campus alone or with roommates

By living off campus, you won’t have to worry about accommodation and board, but you will have additional expenses like rent, groceries, and utilities. You can use financial aid to pay these bills.

Colleges often use regional data and student surveys to build estimates for rent and off-campus utilities, and often those amounts aren’t much different from life on campus, says Jill Desjean, policy analyst to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. . However, your school will still consider living off campus to be cheaper than living on campus.

Montclair State University in New Jersey, for example, estimates that accommodation and meals for state students who live off campus will cost $ 13,068 for the fall semester, compared to $ 16,193 for the room and board on campus.

Living at home with your parents

Your expenses may be less at home with your parents than living alone or on campus, but colleges will factor into their estimates the costs your parents incur for keeping you at home, Desjean says.

“When you bring that student back, the lights are on for longer, you have to feed them so the cost of food, heat – everything goes up,” Desjean says. You can use financial aid to offset your contribution to increasing house bills.

And remember that the cost of attending school does impact how much financial aid you can get, but this is an estimate rather than an exhaustive list. You may need additional technology and equipment to learn more effectively at home, such as a dedicated office setup and a laptop if you don’t have one.

How to get more funds for living expenses

If you or your family are having financial difficulties during the school year, ask your school for additional financial help. This requires you to submit a financial aid appeal to your school with a letter and update the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

You may also be eligible for emergency assistance such as cash grants, scholarships, emergency student loans, or vouchers.

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