Complete Guide to College and Coronavirus

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Kristen Kuchar

By Kristen Kuchar

March 16, 2020

The spread of coronavirus has impacted the entire world – even down to college savings accounts and student loan interest rates. If you are a current college student, odds are your life has been turned upside down.

We’ve answered your questions below on what you should do if your college is closed, what happens to your room and board payments, and what to do if you can’t make a student loan payment.

Your college has closed due to coronavirus. 

What does this mean for getting home? 

Will you be reimbursed for room and board?

What if you have nowhere to go?

The answer to these questions depends on each individual college. Check your college’s website for specific information. Regularly check your student email address, which is likely receiving information on next steps and resources. If anything is unclear, contact your college’s financial office and student affairs office directly to find out what resources are available. Following your college on social media is also a good way to stay up-to-date on future announcements. 

Pete Wylie, CommonBond’s Chief Operating Officer, recommends college students and parents to be patient during this unpredictable time. “The first priority has been ensuring the health and wellbeing of students and staff, and there are many open questions that will be resolved in the coming weeks once that objective has been met,” he says.

Can I get more financial aid?

For families who have a change in income or have additional costs to deal with during this time, a college’s financial aid administrator could alter the family’s expected contribution or expenses to qualify for additional financial aid. Contact your financial aid office for more information. 

What happens if I was in a work-study program?

Students who are active in a federal work study program will still receive paychecks, even if their school is closed. This applies only if the college continues to pay its faculty and staff and only if the college continues to pay its share of the work-study wages.

What if I can’t afford travel costs home?

If your college is closed and you can’t afford to travel home, your college may reimburse you for travel costs. Harvard students, for example, are eligible for reimbursement of travel costs home. 

Some colleges are also providing students with help shipping and storing their belongings, such as free boxes and packing supplies.

U-Haul is offering free 30-day storage for college students who need to move out.

There are also options to receive an emergency student loan, either through your college or through a private lender.  

Will I be reimbursed for room and board?

Some colleges will reimburse students for room and board costs, such as Amherst College. The details will depend on your specific college.

Some colleges are pro-rating the cost for the remainder of the school year, such as Smith College and Harvard.

Contact your school directly to find out. They may not have all of the details available at this time.

The U.S. Department of Education has stated: If, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, you provide a refund or waiver of expenses for all or part of a student’s tuition, fees, room and board charges, or other institutional charges, or if you become aware that a student has moved off campus for the remainder of the term, the Department will not require a re-evaluation of the student’s cost of attendance. Therefore, you are not required to make changes to a student’s Title IV awards on the basis of such changes.

What if I have nowhere to go?

Many colleges that are moving to online classes are still leaving campus resources available. Colorado State University, for example, will keep university operations normal – including the health center, residence halls, dining halls and the library.

Dining and other campus resources at many colleges, including the University of Michigan, are open with limited hours for those staying on campus.

Many colleges that are requesting students to leave, are also asking students to reach out if they have nowhere to go. Cornell University, for example, is honoring requests not to leave campus. Amherst College is allowing for petitions to stay.

Find out what your specific college is doing for students who don’t have anywhere else to go right now.  

Local communities are also providing help to international and homeless students. Visit your city or town’s website to find out what resources are available. 

What if I get coronavirus? How will that impact my studies?

Colleges are allowed to waive the Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) policy for students who get coronavirus or who are quarantined because of coronavirus. Colleges are also allowed to hold the federal student aid funds in anticipation of your return for up to 180 days. 

What happens to my student loans if I get coronavirus? What if I can’t make student loan payments?

Contact your lender directly to learn about how they will handle this. Wylie of CommonBond says, “For students who can’t complete a semester due to illness, who plan to return to school, can keep their loans in deferment (no payments needed) as long as they resume their studies after they are well.”

There are many options if you can’t make student loan payments. Federal student loans are eligible for deferment options, income-driven repayment plans and extended repayment plans. Some private lenders also offer options to temporarily stop or lower payments. Learn how to pause your student loan payments.

Borrowers who have already graduated may be eligible for the economic hardship deferment, unemployment deferment or forbearances. 

Should I refinance my student loans?

With interest rates at a historic low, it can be a good time to refinance student loans and you might be hearing a lot about it right now. A few lenders will even refinance student loans if you’re still in college, such as Earnest.

Keep in mind, refinancing federal student loans means the loss of all of the perks that come along with it – income-driven repayment plans, generous deferment options and the possibility for federal student loan forgiveness. For private student loans, refinancing could mean saving money with a lower interest rate and making payments more manageable. Consider the pros and cons of refinancing student loans, learn what is required to refinance, how to choose a lender, and compare lenders to see who’s right for you. 

How are study abroad programs being impacted?

U.S. students who are studying abroad will need to return home, as foreign institutions who are receiving Title IV federal student aid directly or indirectly cannot provide the education through online education. The U.S. Department of Education does not have the authority to waive this requirement, which is specified in the Higher Education Act of 1965. 

What if I’m an International student studying in the U.S.?

International students who are studying in the U.S. have restrictions on participating in online education. Students on an M visa are not allowed to have any of their classes online. Students with an F visa are limited to just one online class per term. 

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is issuing guidance to allow international students to temporarily participate in distance learning without risking their visa status.

What about my GI Bill Benefits? 

According to a recent announcement, if your school temporarily closes because of an emergency situation, VA may continue benefit payments (including the Monthly Housing Allowance under the Post-9/11 GI Bill) for up to four weeks during a 12-month period. 

For colleges that remains open for online classes, “if the change from training in-residence to online classes happens during the term, and your program has been approved by the State Approving Agency for delivery through an online modality, your benefit payments will remain the same for the rest of the term.”

“For any future terms that are solely online, your housing allowance will be reduced to one-half of the national average of DoD’s Basic Allowance for Housing rates for an E-5 with dependents. The most important thing you need to know is if your program has not been approved by the State Approving Agency for an online modality, all of your education benefit payments will stop when you begin your training online.”

If you have questions about your GI Bill Benefits, contact 888-442-4551.

How can I stay safe during the Coronavirus outbreak?

  • Follow the guidelines for social distancing. Maintain enough distance (6 feet or more) to slow down the spread. Limit any activity outside of your house to necessary trips.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Put distance between yourself and other people
  • Stay home if you are sick. Learn what to do if you are sick. Wear a facemask if you are sick.
  • Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.
  • If surfaces are dirty, clean them: Use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.

At, our goal is to help you make smart decisions about saving and paying for education. Some of the products featured in this article are from our partners, but this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

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