COVID-19 Q&A, Student and Scholarship Challenges

June 25, 2020

As we saw in Part 1 of our Q&A earlier this week, there’s a ton of uncertainty surrounding the fall 2020 semester at colleges. And that means students are playing something of a waiting game when it comes to their own fall plans.  

In addition to unanswered questions about their schools, many students’ family, health and financial situations may have changed due to COVID-19. Millions of people are facing job loss and job reduction; those with health concerns are weighing the risks for returning to school, and students with family responsibilities may need to remain close to home and act as caregivers. It’s an incredibly difficult time to be a student – especially for those who weren’t able to access resources during quarantine.  

Here are some of the questions we’re hearing from students as the school year approaches – and some of the ways we’re preparing to take action. 

I (or a member of my family) lost my job as a result of COVID-19. How can I find financial aid? 

The spike in unemployment is going to change millions of families’ financial situations. We expect that students are going to be reaching out to schools and scholarship providers due to a change in their financial situation, which may lead to a serious re-shuffling of financial aid packages.  

Because of the unique and individual nature of family finances, there’s no across-the-board solution. We’re working with students and partners on a case-by-case basis to help.  

We’re also encouraging our partners and supporters to invest as much as possible in impactful, equitable and renewable scholarships to help students return to stability. As students face financial hardships and schools deal with budget shortfalls, private scholarship dollars have never been more critical.  

What do I do if I can’t afford food/housing/utilities/internet access? 

Millions of students faced food shortages, housing insecurity and other barriers to success even before the pandemic – and the need for emergency aid is only growing as we fully realize the long term impact of COVID-19. 

The movement to provide emergency aid has been responsive to these needs, and Scholarship America and our partners have been expanding our own emergency grant programs to serve more students and provide more funding flexibility.  

We are continuing to work closely with our partners that deliver emergency grant funds to students to make needed adjustments. We are also working hard to secure emergency grant funds for more students with new partners. Visit our Emergency Grants page to learn more. 

All of my school’s classes this spring were changed to pass/fail. Will that affect my scholarship application? 

Many of our students had classes changed from letter grades to pass/fail, which is also sometimes called satisfactory/non-satisfactory, in the Spring of 2020. This could potentially continue into Fall 2020, depending on college re-opening protocols. Typically, students who receive a pass/satisfactory rating do receive course credit, but pass/fail grades do not factor into the cumulative GPA equation.    

Unfortunately, GPA-based scholarships aren’t always set up to take pass/fail class results into account. We have to be very careful not to introduce unfair advantages or disadvantages due to grading system changes. For programs with eligibility requirements and/or those who take GPA into account for scoring, we believe that cumulative GPA, as opposed to GPA from the most recent term, is still an accurate reflection of academic performance, and so we will continue to use it. 

My high school closed down before I could take ACTs, SATs or AP/IB tests or get a teacher recommendation. Can I still get a scholarship? 

Many programs use student SAT or ACT scores as a component of scoring; unfortunately, COVID-19 impacted this year’s testing. It also prevented many students from taking Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate tests, which are often used to demonstrate academic achievement and to project college success. 

To ensure we’re serving students equitably in these cases, we will use our standard academic criteria and evaluation; if a student doesn’t have ACT or SAT scores we will use their GPA and rank in class (if available). For programs that require these scores, or that weight them heavily in evaluation, we are recommending that program sponsors remove the requirement or reduce the impact for the next program year.  

Similarly, for programs that require school personnel to serve as a recommender, we’re advising our partners to allow for alternatives – typically other non-family adults that know the student well.  

These best practices will help guide all of us through the landscape changed by COVID-19. And as things continue to evolve, we will continue to be nimble and flexible, with every decision coming down to one major question: does this benefit students? 

If you have questions about an existing program or would like to start a new one, please get in touch – our experts are here to help! 

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