How The Shutdown Is Affecting College Application SeasonPosted: October 7, 2013 | |
October has never been kind to those applying to college – or students in college and recent grads of college, for that matter. For the applicants, October is the frenzied time that essay-writing, SAT-taking and financial-aid-number-crunching reach peak volume; for the students, it’s midterm season; for the recent grads, it’s just about time to start repaying any student loans. This October, the government has added an additional layer of chaos: it went and shut itself down, leaving 800,000 federal workers furloughed and dozens of federal websites and resources unreachable. Meanwhile, the first round of Early Decision applications is due on November 1.
Cue the panic in 3, 2…
“The anxiety meter for this time of year isn’t showing any difference from levels in non-shutdown years,” said Kal Chany, author of the Princeton Review’s Paying for College Without Going Broke. “If you’ve been in a media blackout for the past week and haven’t realized the government went into shutdown, you probably wouldn’t’ notice any difference if you went online to apply to aid, to submit a payment, etc.”
It’s a bit shocking, but true: numerous sources confirmed that while the Department of Education’s College Navigator tool is down, parents and students are staying level-headed. Or at least, as level-headed as they normally are this time of year.
“You can just see it in the parents’ eyes – now it hits,” Chany said, noting that what’s hitting is more the enormity of applying to and paying for college, and less the fact that the government isn’t functioning at the moment. This is in large part because the most important application tools and resources – like the Common App, CollegeBoard (which administers the SAT) and the Federal Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) – are up and running as normal.
“I can confirm that there’s very little impact to students, parents or borrowers who are aid recipients or researching options about becoming one,” said Chris Greene, a Department of Education spokesperson, emphatically adding that students currently in school and depending on a loan disbursement will get their money.
“From an application point of view, we don’t rely on the feds for anything and we’re humming along,” said Rob Killion, executive director of the Common App.
“Based on current information, we do not anticipate that the government shutdown will affect the national SAT exam administration this Saturday, October 5, 2013,” said CollegeBoard in a statement, surely crushing the hearts of high school juniors and seniors across the country.
You heard them: the FAFSA is up and running. The Common App is fine. The SATs are going forward as scheduled. Even borrowers who owe payments aren’t getting a break.
“Of high priority is the servicing of students loans and collection of defaulted loans,” said Mark Kantrowitz, a student aid expert and senior vice president and publisher at Edvisors.com. “Loans will still get collected.”
If there are any disruptions to normal college and college aid proceedings, experts say it will come if the shutdown lingers for a long while, or if the government fails to raise the debt ceiling. And even then, it’s the colleges that would feel the brunt of financial sting, not parents or students.
“It’s not that the students wouldn’t get the money, it’s that the flow of the money from the Department of Education to colleges would be affected. Colleges would then have to float the department a no interest loan,” Kantrowitz said. He noted that in the event the shutdown drags on for months and months, students who depend on aid amounts that cover more than tuition and use the excess federal aid to pay for books and other expenses won’t see that excess amount.
“Typically if you receive a Pell grant and other aid that exceeds [the school’s] fees, the rest is refunded to you to pay for other expenses. If the college doesn’t receive government funding, they’ll float a check for tuition, but they’re not required to make a disbursement until they receive the funds,” Kantrowitz said.
Unfortunately, this isn’t to say that everyone is completely unaffected in the short term. In fact, the group that needs the most support is getting the shortest end of the shutdown stick: Because the government is not running, Tuition Assistance for active military members is not available. For schools like American Military University, this spells trouble.
“Things have been quite confusing and hectic,” said Jim Sweizer, vice president for Military Relations at AMU. “All of the schools that serve the military are in limbo waiting for the government to pass a budget. At some schools that have had class start dates already, soldiers were forced to drop classes because government is dropping students from the GoArmy system.” Sweizer noted that other active service members who have Tuition Assistance forms pending don’t yet know what will happen to those forms. And without Tuition Assistance, active military members can’t pay for class, unless they want to pay out of their own pocket.
However, Sweizer is clinging to a shred of hope that the shutdown will end on Monday at midnight.
“Soldiers won’t be dropped [from classes] until midnight Monday. If something is passed over the weekend, they should be okay at our school,” he said. “There’s still hope for us or any school that has a course that started Monday and beyond.”