Ask the Expert: Planning for College During a Pandemic

Lola Magazine Ben James, Education

Ben James is the Co-Founder of Deupree James Wealth Management. He and his wife, Dr. Stephanie James, live in Shreveport with their four children.

2020 is different, y’all. Covid-19 has changed the way Americans do almost everything – including college planning. So, we asked Shreveport Financial Advisor Ben James for some tips on how to college plan like a boss during this pandemic. 

Contrary to what many believe, when it comes to college, 2020 is a buyers’ market. Between 2020 and 2021, schools will be desperate for students and competing for your tuition dollars like never before. But with so many changes, how can you be sure you’re taking advantage of every opportunity? Well, we’ve done the homework for you on how to get the most bang for your college buck.

Financial Aid

Overview: If like so many in 2020 your income or assets have dropped, don’t be afraid to appeal your student’s financial aid. If you were not previously eligible for need-based financial aid, you might be now. If you were previously eligible for it, you might be eligible for more. 

Prep: Typically, the more documentation you can provide to the school the better the chance is that your appeal gets approved. Ideally you should provide them with an updated Expected Family Contribution.*

Act: Contact the school and ask for their procedure to appeal aid. Let them know if you have other children to send through school. Finally, ask if the school considers home equity for need-based aid. Some private schools will entertain an appeal on how they assess home equity. 

Gap Years

Overview: Who wants to go to school if you can’t actually be on campus? More students will likely be taking a gap year in 2020. However, with colleges desperate for students, they are more likely to accept student requests for deferrals of one or two semesters. 

Prep: Consider the pros and cons of entering your chosen college now or deferring a year. Maybe you just want your child to stay closer to home, or maybe you need to save money picking up courses at a community college for a year. But before deferring, you need to make sure that it won’t negatively impact your student’s financial aid at their next school. 

Act: If your student plans on doing some community college courses, ask the admissions and financial aid departments at their next school if the credits will be accepted and work toward fulfilling criteria in your student’s chosen major. Also, ask the chosen school if your student will still be considered a freshman when they eventually enter their committed school. 

More Aggressive Recruitment

Overview: If you look back at the 2008 recession, state government support for higher education dropped significantly. Back then public schools responded by more aggressively recruiting students, especially out-of-state students. We are likely to see the same thing happen in 2020. 

Prep: Cast a wider net when looking for schools. Don’t assume that in-state schools will be your best deal. Consider hiring a professional who can help you find a school that is a good match financially and scholastically.

Act: Play each school’s offer against the others to find the best deal. Be bold and forthright when talking about your student’s offer to a different school. But avoid the word “negotiate” — schools hate that word!

No Standardized Tests?

Overview: Perhaps no area of college planning has changed more than standardized tests. As you may know, all SAT and ACT tests were canceled in the spring. Many schools responded by offering “test optional” admissions. 

Prep: The two big areas to consider are test scores and family income. Gather your test scores, your Expected Family Contributions, and your list of possible schools.

Act: If test scores are non-elite a “test optional” school choice might be best. To find the complete list of schools offering “test optional” admissions go to There are some elite schools on this list – including Yale, Vanderbilt, and Tufts. So, this might open some doors to your family that were previously closed. However, if your chosen schools require a test score, the ACT will still be offered online.

Budget Cuts

Overview: 11 colleges closed in 2019, and now Covid-19 is really stretching the budgets of colleges and universities. Some will close and others will cut budgets. 

Prep: Families should thoroughly research a school’s financial condition before committing. 

Act: A good place to start your research is the Forbes list of over 900 College’s Financial Health Grades. If you want to dig deeper, enrollment and financial trends for most schools are available on the National Center for Education Statistics website. 

We hope those tips help your family plan for college during the pandemic. For more advice on your specific situation, please feel free to reach out to us at Deupree James Wealth Management or visit our site at

Securities offered through Triad Advisors, LLC. Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through Goss Advisors, a registered investment adviser. Goss Advisors and Deupree James Wealth Management, LLC are separate entities from Triad Advisors, LLC. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where GWM Advisors, LLC, doing business as Deupree James Wealth Management and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure.

 *If you want help generating your EFC, reach out to us at Deupree James Wealth Management. You can also visit SwiftStudent for free financial aid appeal letter templates.