American colleges and universities are confronting unique challenges in the wake of Covid-19, and millions of American families are grappling with new questions that seldom if ever arose previously in the college planning process.

Traditional campus tours, set-in-stone fall class schedules, and a full complement of faculty and staff are just a few of the missing pieces at many schools. Alongside that looms the question of how to evaluate what the college is really offering, and what the value of those offerings actually is.

For soon-to-be high-school grads and their parents, traditional campus tours are out, and many parents of already-enrolled students are demanding refunds for unused room and board as students were sent home early as a protection measure. Fall schedules are very hard to project at this point as faculty and support personnel may have been furloughed.

Year-round recruiting

College admissions departments likely are moving toward a new normal of year-round recruiting while anticipating a huge increase in financial aid appeals as the U.S. economy struggles with massive unemployment. Video visits are replacing live tours, and, to an extent, there could be some bidding among schools for students and a greater acceptance of transfer credits from other schools.

We will see more interest in community colleges for a year or two and in colleges closer to home. And student testing is on the way to becoming optional or being offered at home, or both. In essence, schools are going to face a lot of resistance if they retain classic price models for what will be viewed as a lesser experience for students.

Explore financial aid

With the cost of a four-year college including tuition, fees, room and board running anywhere from about $22,000 to $70,000 annually depending on the type of school, it is imperative for parents to explore federal need-based financial aid that can provide access to loans, work-study programs and grants.

Families should apply for aid every year even if you don’t think you qualify. And once you have received an offer of aid, don’t be afraid to appeal for additional dollars. Remember, it’s highly likely that your family finances will change a lot in these uncertain times, and your aid package should reflect that.

Barnum Financial Group’s Center for College Planning was established in 2010 in response to the increasing affordability challenges of funding a college education. John Pearson is a CPA and financial advisor.