More FAFSA Delays

The Department of Education has announced that FAFSA processing for the 2024-25 year will not happen until the first half of March 2023. That means that student financial information will not be sent to colleges until then. This will delay the colleges ability to put together need-based financial aid packages. It will also run into filing deadlines at many schools. For families that have attempted to submit the FAFSA but have run into any one of the many, many errors this year, it will mean that you most likely will not know the correct status of your FAFSA until it is fully processed in March. You may want to contact the financial aid department at the colleges on your list for further instructions on how they are handling this significant delay.


Room and Board Refunds

Last update: May 13, 2020

Here’s the latest information from college websites on their policy on room and board refunds for spring 2020. All information comes direct from the college websites, so if you have questions, please direct those questions to the individual school.

Christopher Newport

Christopher Newport will be able to provide rebates to eligible students who have a spring 2020 housing contract or meal plan. This includes students who were unable to remove all of their belongings from the residence halls and must return at a later time to do so. The information below will help you understand how the rebates were calculated and how they will be processed.

Housing Rebate

Students will receive a rebate based on their spring semester housing contract as follows:

12-month contract: $1,200

10-month contract: $1,000

9-month contract: $900

Rebate amounts are based on each type of housing contract and adjusted for the many fixed and direct costs associated with operating university housing. These costs include debt payments and personnel costs.

Meal Plan Rebate

Students will receive a rebate based on their spring semester meal plan, to include dining dollars, as follows:

5-meal plan: $150

10-meal plan: $350

14-meal plan: $350

19-meal plan: $350

Rebate amounts for meal plans reflect adjustments for the many university costs incurred including debt payments, personnel and food costs. Dining dollars are included in the rebate amount and are not a separate rebate.

Captains Cash is not considered part of the rebate. If you are a continuing student, then the cash balance will remain on your card and available in upcoming semesters. If you are graduating, then you may request a refund by submitting the “Captains Cash Refund Request”.

Parking Pass Rebate

If you purchased a parking pass after December 15, 2019, you may request a refund from Parking and Transportation Services at

Timing of Rebates

Rebates will be applied to your student account on or before Friday, April 10. If you have a balance due to the university, the rebate will be used toward paying that balance. Once your outstanding balance is satisfied, any overage (rebate in excess of the amount you previously owed) will be refunded to you on or before April 30. Please see the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for more information about this process and how you may receive your refund.

George Mason

Q: Will Mason refund dining payments?

A: Yes, refunds will be distributed in two ways.

Bonus and Freedom accounts were closed on March 27 (except those of you still in the residence halls). Remaining balances will be refunded to your account.

If you’re still living on campus, you’ll have access to open dining locations and convenience stores.

For Board plans, Mason will distribute refunds based on prorated time (dining days left in the semester), less fixed costs that support dining operations.

Refunds will be issued through the Student Accounts Office.

Mason is processing a large volume of refunds; we appreciate your patience.

Q: Will Mason refund parking payments?

A: Yes. Refund amounts will be based on a pro-rated value of your permit type, less accommodation for fixed costs that support Parking.

Refunds will be issued through the Student Accounts Office.

Mason is processing a large volume of refunds; we appreciate your patience.

Q: Will Mason refund housing payments?

A: Yes. All residential students who were on the Housing roster prior to spring break and not living on campus after March 25 (not inclusive of their assigned move-out date after April 13) will get a refund.

This table lists the amount you can expect to receive based on your living situation (residence hall, type of accommodation, etc.)

Students who were not approved to remain on campus after March 25 and will complete the move-out process after April 13 are still eligible for the refund.

Refund amounts are based on prorated rate for the spring semester, less an accommodation for fixed costs that support Housing operations.

Refunds will be issued through the Student Accounts Office.

Mason is processing a large volume of refunds; we appreciate your patience.

Q: Will Mason refund housing payments?

A: Yes. All residential students who were on the Housing roster prior to spring break and not living on campus after March 25 (not inclusive of their assigned move-out date after April 13) will get a refund.

This table lists the amount you can expect to receive based on your living situation (residence hall, type of accommodation, etc.)

Students who were not approved to remain on campus after March 25 and will complete the move-out process after April 13 are still eligible for the refund.

Refund amounts are based on prorated rate for the spring semester, less an accommodation for fixed costs that support Housing operations.

Refunds will be issued through the Student Accounts Office.

Mason is processing a large volume of refunds; we appreciate your patience.

James Madison

The calculation for refunding of room charges is as follows:

  1. The university starts with a credit amount equal to 50% of the semester charge.
  2. The credit is reduced by 27.5% to account for debt obligations and personnel costs.


Credit amount for standard residence hall:     $1,357
Credit reduction for fixed costs (27.5%):        $  373
Adjusted credit amount                                   $  984

All students who have left the residence halls for the spring semester will automatically receive a refund. This includes students who were unable to remove all of their belongings and must return at a later time to do so. No further action on your part is required.

The calculation for refunding the meal punch portion of the meal plan is as follows:

The university starts with a credit amount equal to 50% of the semester charge provided the student’s last meal was on or before March 14, 2020. The credit is reduced by 25% to account for debt obligations and Dining Services contract management. If a student has used a meal punch on or after March 15, 2020, their refund will be adjusted for use.


Credit amount for 19-Plus Plan:                $1,290      *Last meal on or before March 14, 2020
Credit reduction for fixed costs (25%):     $  323
Adjusted credit amount                              $  967

On-campus students – If you are not staying on campus, you will automatically receive a refund determined by the last week your meal plan was used. Students on the Block 50 plans will be refunded based on actual meals used. No further action on your part is required.

Off-campus students – Please email using your @dukes email account requesting a refund for your meal plan. To ensure a timely refund, be sure to include your first name, last name and student identification number. Requests from non-JMU email addresses will not be processed. Your refund will be determined by the last week your meal plan was used. Students on the Block 50 plans will be refunded based on actual meals used. The deadline to request this refund is April 8, 2020.

Dining Dollars – Unused Dining Dollars will remain on returning students’ accounts and will be available for use into the 2020-21 academic year. These Dining Dollars will need to be spent by the end of the 2021 spring semester. Only graduating seniors will be eligible for a refund of unused Dining Dollars upon graduation. This refund will be automatically processed and does not require an email to Card Services.

Dining Dollars Gold and Flex accounts  All unused Dining Dollars Gold and Flex account balances will be available for use into the 2020-21 academic year. These dollars will remain available until spent or upon graduation. If you choose to obtain a refund of your remaining Dining Dollars Gold or Flex balance, you may do so at any time. Please notify using your @dukes account. To ensure a timely refund, be sure to include your first name, last name and student identification number.

Parking  Parking registration fees will be refunded according to the established refund policy. Students will not be required to return their parking permits in order to obtain a refund. The refund will be credited to your student account based on the type of permit purchased. The refund amounts are as follows:

Full-time commuter or resident   $38
Part–time or Evening only           $19
Remote lot only                            $13

Parking refunds will be processed automatically. No further action is required for your refund.

Tuition & Fees  Our faculty have worked tirelessly to move their in-class instruction to an on-line format to ensure your academic progress continues as seamlessly as possible. You will continue to receive course credits toward the completion of your degree and your academic coursework will continue with as little disruption as possible. Traditionally, on-line courses at JMU are priced higher due to enhanced technology needs, course credentialing standards, proctoring requirements and added instructional faculty and IT personnel/equipment demands. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the university has absorbed these costs. Tuition and fees cover all costs associated with course instruction (and related instructional support). In light of these expenses and the course credits that you will continue to receive, there will be no tuition and fee refunds.

Outstanding Balances — Please note that all outstanding balances on your student account will be deducted from your refund, prior to distribution. For payment plan participants, this refund will reduce or eliminate your last spring payment which is due May 5.


What about refunds for housing or dining?

Housing & Dining: Students who live on campus or in Longwood-managed housing and have a meal plan will each be paid a refund of $1,000.

Just Dining: If you don’t live in Longwood-managed housing but have a meal plan for the spring semester, you will be paid a refund of $300.

These refunds will be paid in two installments. The first half of the total will be mailed to your permanent address in the next 30 days. The second half will be mailed in July.


Mary Washington

How will the housing rebate be calculated?

All residential students will receive a rebate using a March 15 departure date. Only students with housing contracts currently in effect will be eligible for a rebate.

A credit will be posted to your student account. Since a number of factors – such as room type – cause housing costs to vary, each student’s credit amount will be different.

How will the dining rebate be calculated?

If you participated in a spring dining plan, your refund will be based on a March 15 end date.

A credit will be posted to your student account based on your meal plan type, regardless of your remaining meal swipes or flex balances. Similar to housing, this will result in variable rebates reflective of each plan’s cost and mix of meals and flex dollars.

If you obtained a parking decal for spring semester, you will receive a partial refund.

A credit will be posted to your student account based on the type of parking decal you purchased, for campus or Eagle Landing.

Norfolk State

Our highest priority is the health and safety of the NSU Community. The University’s senior leadership team and Emergency Operations Committee is continuing to monitor the local and regional impact of COVID-19, and is taking proactive actions to mitigate potential risks to our community.

In light of the COVID-19 crisis and impact on Norfolk State University students, prorated credits will be applied to student’s accounts beginning today, April 15, 2020 for unused housing and dining benefits less Auxiliary Enterprise fixed cost.  Additionally, those students who purchased a parking decal will also have a credit applied to their account for the unused parking benefit.  Refunds will be issued to those students who have a credit balance after the housing, dining, and parking credits are applied to their account beginning April 16, 2020.  Students that have provided their banking information for direct deposit will receive their refund in their bank account not later than April 23, 2020.  Those without direct deposit will be mailed a paper check to the address of record not later than April 23, 2020.  Students can log on to their account to see the amount of the prorated credits applied on April 23, 2020.  Additional information on the calculation of the credit will be provided on the MYNSU portal.

Old Dominion

The University intends to issue a credit or refund to students for room and board. We ask for your patience as we work through this process and determine the appropriate amount. More information will follow.


Also, the University will provide credits and/or refunds for housing and unused dining plans. Direct communication will be sent to students with housing and dining plans by noon on Tuesday, March 24, 2020. The communication will detail the process regarding next steps.

Due to the continued delivery of courses in a modified platform, tuition and fees will not be reimbursed. Students who are unable to complete required clinical and/or other field placements will be provided the opportunity to complete those requirements at a later date and as soon as possible given the global health pandemic. Please contact your academic college and department or school for additional information.

University of Virginia

We will provide pro-rated credits to student accounts for on-Grounds housing and UVA dining contracts.

We will send additional information on the mechanics of this process in a later communication, but students will have the ability to either request a refund or allow the credit to remain on their student account to apply to future bills.

As long as students remain enrolled through the end of the spring semester, financial aid will not be impacted.

UVA College at Wise

Since students won’t be residing in residence halls or eating in the cafeteria, will there be any sort of financial adjustment for room and board during this time period?

Due to recent events surrounding COVID-19, and students being asked to remain off campus, housing and dining charges will be prorated and a credit given.  Due to this unique situation, the College had to be careful to make sure providing the appropriate credit did not cause any problems with regulations such as federal financial aid or NCAA compliance, to name a few.

This credit will be used to satisfy any outstanding balance on your student account for the Spring semester.  Any remaining credit will be applied toward a future semester’s charge for housing and dining. If you are a graduating senior, you may request a refund by emailing Amanda Hughes at no later than April 15th, and please provide the appropriate mailing address for this refund. Refunds will apply to the direct payments made on the account by the student.

Students who resided in McCraray Hall will receive a credit of $2,100.  Students who resided in all other residence halls will receive a $2,400 credit.  If you have any questions regarding this credit, please email

Virginia Commonwealth University 


All eligible students who left the residence halls due to the COVID-19 response effective March 13, 2020, will automatically receive a credit/refund. This includes students who were unable to remove all of their belongings and must return at a later time to do so. Residential Life and Housing will communicate directly with students and updates will be available on their website.

Students with a 9-month contract will receive a credit of $1,150.

Students with a 12-month contract will receive a credit of $1,450.

All housing credit/refunds will be applied to your student account and will be visible on students’ accounts on April 9, 2020.


For students not living in on-campus housing as of Monday, April 6, 2020:

Students will be credited/refunded the calculated value of unused swipes and any unused dining dollars.

For students who have a dining plan, currently living in on-campus housing as of Monday, April 6, 2020:

A credit will not be processed and dining plans cannot be canceled. Dining plans may be used until 10:30 a.m. on May 9, 2020.

For questions regarding your dining plan and unused credits, please email


Student parking will be refunded for the remaining months in the spring semester. Employee parking will be reimbursed based on permit type. This process will take place over the next several weeks, with priority given to student refunds. VCU Parking and Transportation will communicate directly with subscribers with details about parking refunds and how they will be applied. For additional information regarding parking permit refunds, view the FAQs at

School of Arts Differential

VCU will be issuing a partial reimbursement of the School of Arts differential to Arts majors.

Full-time students will be credited $350.

Part-time students will be credited $42 per credit hour.

Tuition and Mandatory Fees

We have heard from many students requesting a refund for tuition and mandatory fees for the Spring 2020 semester. Although we realize this is not the semester you or your faculty planned, it is the reality for college students in the United States and around the world. Faculty, staff and administration have poured enormous effort and resources into making sure that courses can be completed, credits earned, degrees received and challenges surpassed. The university continues to provide essential instructional and support services such as the library, technology, Campus Learning Center and more to provide students a quality learning experience in a remote environment. Tuition and mandatory fees ensure that all of this happens and can continue to happen this semester; therefore, no refunds will be issued for tuition or mandatory fees.

Virginia Military Institute 

Will the Institute refund a portion of Spring 2020 tuition?  

There are no plans to refund tuition as cadets are currently expected to participate in their classes online and earn full credit for the semester’s work.  Tuition will continue to pay for faculty instruction as well as all costs associated with educational delivery.

Will VMI refund a portion of Spring 2020 Room, Board and/or Other Fees? 

The immediate focus has been protecting the health of cadets, faculty, staff and community.  A working group has been established to review, among many other things, the possibility of offering prorated credits for some expenses, including those related to housing and dining.  It’s very difficult to determine, at this time, how long the current situation will persist, however, we do intend to make these financial decisions as soon as possible and share them accordingly.

Virginia State 

Will students be reimbursed for tuition payments for classes?
Tuition will not be reimbursed since the instruction is still being delivered remotely/online.

Will students be reimbursed for campus housing and food?
Currently, our top priority is to ensure the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff. VSU will closely visit this topic in the near future. At this point, the university intends to credit the student’s account for any unused housing and meals. The university is in the process of calculating the adjustments for each student and will provide additional information at a later date. We will communicate that information via the VSU emails. In addition, we have created a web page for all new information.

Virginia Tech 

Parking Permit Refund:

In support of the university community during the COVID-19 emergency, students that no longer reside in the Blacksburg area and do not need a Virginia Tech parking permit should follow the following procedures to request a refund.

Room and Board:

$1,000 to on-campus students not returning to campus.  For students who return to campus next fall, their remaining dining dollars, flex dollars or commuter cash will be transferred to the fall semester. A full refund on that money will be given for students not returning to Tech.

William & Mary 

The Bursar’s Office will credit the following amounts to student accounts by April 10:

Room: Residential students will receive rebates based on their contracts. Most will receive $1,200; those with longer contracts will receive $1,350. These amounts reflect cost obligations of the university to support our housing facilities and critical personnel.

Meal Plan: W&M will provide rebates to students who have purchased a spring meal plan. The level of rebate will vary based on meal plan after reflecting contractual obligations to Sodexo, our valued campus dining partner. Dining dollar balances as of March 25 will be refunded.

Parking: Students with a 2019-2020 parking decal will receive a rebate of $54. Rebates are adjusted for fixed and direct costs associated with parking services which includes debt service payments, maintenance costs and personnel. Students do not need to surrender their parking decal to receive the rebate.

Averett University

Prorated housing credits will be placed on student accounts for the period of time students are unable to return to their campus housing. These credits will roll over to the next academic year for returning students. If the student will not be living in University housing during fall 2020, the credit will be applied to tuition charges for the next academic year.

Balances of both General Meal Plans and Jut’s Bucks will roll over to the next academic year. The University is waiving all current limitations on the amount that may be rolled over.

Those students who were granted approval to remain on campus during this time and continue to live in University housing will not be eligible for the credit and/or roll over.

Seniors graduating in May will receive a prorated housing and meal plan credit on their student account. The credits will first apply to any outstanding balance owed to the University. If the account balance is paid in full at graduation, the University will issue a refund to the student in the weeks following.

There will be no financial credit provided for tuition since faculty instruction continues on a remote basis.

The housing credit and meal plan rollover is null and void if the student does not return in fall 2020; this excludes graduating seniors.

All financial credits will be applied in the July 2020 billing cycle.

For questions, contact Carl Bradsher at 434-791-5646 or

Bluefield College

Related to your room, we are not considering reimbursements at this time. Returning home during the time period of online instruction was an optional choice. Bluefield College continues operation of the residence halls. Many, if not all students, who returned home have left personal possessions in your rooms. These items continue to be safely and securely held for you during this time. There are fixed costs related residential, housekeeping, and maintenance staff. Should there be savings from operations, College leadership will evaluate the possibility of a refund/credit. This will be based on a number of variables which will be evaluated one month following the conclusion of the spring semester.

Boarding charges at Bluefield College have many fixed costs, primarily personnel, but we are negotiating with our food provider for a reduction in our monthly bill. With less food being prepared, then less food is needing purchased. We are hopeful these savings in food purchases can be passed back to you as residential students. This too will be evaluated one month following the conclusion of the spring semester.


Bridgewater College

The College will be issuing refunds for residential fees, and we are evaluating and assessing the guidelines for reimbursement. The College will not offer tuition refunds, as instruction and technology support continue.


Eastern Mennonite University

What is the process for reimbursement/credit for spring semester room and board?

This information was sent to students and parents in a correspondence on 4/17:

EMU will be issuing room & board credits to residential students who lived on campus and were required to leave campus as a result of COVID-19.

This action is based on credits that were calculated on the unused portion of room and board, net of room grants and other fixed cost obligations.  Credits vary, depending on the housing and meal plan, and will be applied to student accounts by April 24.

We have negotiated in good faith with our service providers to mitigate as many fixed costs as possible, but there remain some contracted food service costs that EMU has incurred and were used in calculating  the credits. Those fixed costs amounted to less than 20% of the amount of the overall credit. EMU is absorbing other fixed costs.

If a student had a balance outstanding on their account, the credit will go towards that balance.  For returning students, the credit will automatically carry over to the next term. Graduating seniors or students not returning may request a refund of credit balance by contacting the Business Office.

For those students who received a waiver to remain on campus, there will be no credit or a reduced credit based on the recorded move-out date.

Additionally, for those students who participated in the Guatemala Cross-Cultural trip, we are still gathering all expenses and will provide separate communication to those students and families.


Emory & Henry College

Thank you for your patience during this enormous change in all of our lives due to COVID-19.

We appreciate you being flexible as we move to a remote learning environment to round out Spring 2020 semester. Our faculty have worked very hard over the past two weeks to move their curriculum to an online or remote learning format so you can finish the credits you signed up for–and so seniors can meet their graduation requirements.

While we are relieved to be able to offer the opportunity for you to complete the credits covered by your tuition, we are looking into how we can provide partial reimbursements to families for room, board, and some fees. We are weighing many considerations as we shape that plan, including residence halls and meal plan costs, financial aid, and payment plans or balances. We want to take the time necessary to be as fair as possible.

We appreciate your patience as we navigate this new and unexpected territory. We will send you an email with specifics about the reimbursement plan as soon as possible. If you have questions in the meantime, please email any of us.

Ferrum College

As such, the College will be implementing the following policy for Room & Board to residential students:

Graduating residential seniors:  A credit will be applied to any outstanding balance on the student’s account, and the remainder will be mailed to the student via check.

All other residential students:  A credit will be applied to any outstanding balance on the student’s account, and the remainder will be credited to Room & Board for next academic year.

How much will this credit be?  The College will provide a prorated credit calculated from the date the College announced it would continue virtual teaching to the last day of the Spring semester (March 24 – May 4), or 42 days for a total of $1,000.

Who will receive this credit?  All residential students who have left campus AND who have informed the Office of Student Life will be eligible to receive the credit.  Students currently on campus must email  and leave campus no later than Sunday, March 29 in order to receive this credit.  Those who are approved to remain on campus, and those who did not contact the Office of Student Life prior to leaving, will not be eligible for the credit.

How will I receive this credit?  Unless you are a graduating senior, you will receive this credit to your student account.

George Washington

For students who will not remain on campus during the instructional continuity period:

You will receive a credit to your student account at the nightly rate of your residence hall unit type for the period in which the university is operating under instructional continuity.

You may request a reimbursement of dining plan funds for the number of days the instructional continuity period lasts. If you paid for a parking permit, you may also request a refund for the number of days the instructional continuity period lasts.

Hampden-Sydney College

Refunds: The College will be providing credits to student accounts for room and board, net of the College’s cash costs over that period. This credit will apply to outstanding balances or to future bills, and the credit amounts will vary depending on each student’s individual housing and meal plan combination. We anticipate these credits being applied to accounts by Friday, April 10. Following the completion of the academic year, refund checks will be issued to students who are not returning to the College in the fall and whose student accounts do not have outstanding balances.

Hampton University

As an act of good will, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has selected Hampton to receive a gift of $100,000 to provide financial relief to individual students who have needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.  In order to personally be of help to our students by assisting them financially, Mrs. Harvey and I are going to match the Mellon gift with a $100,000 donation to Hampton.  We will use the $200,000 to provide each on-campus student $100 to assist with travel costs to retrieve their belongings or return to school in the fall.

Please be reminded that the University will provide a prorated room and board credit to those students who have external financial support for housing and meals. The room and board credit will be applied against your unpaid balance from the Spring 2020 semester. If there is not an outstanding balance, the room and board credit will be applied to the 2020-2021 academic year. Graduating seniors will also receive a prorated room and board credit on their student account. The credit will be applied to any outstanding balance owed to the University. If the account balance is paid in full, the University will issue a refund to the student by June 30, 2020.


Hollins University

Will there be a credit or refund for room and board?

In accordance with the university’s board plan refund policy, eligible undergraduate residential students will receive a pro-rated refund of $866. This refund will be placed on student accounts by Friday, April 17.

If an underclass student has an outstanding balance, including an outstanding enrollment deposit, the board refund will be applied to the outstanding balance first. If there is a remaining credit balance after April 17, underclass students will have the option to request a refund of the credit balance, or carry the balance forward to the fall 2020 term.

Even though the university has a clear policy of no refund of room costs, we recognize that these are extraordinary times. Therefore, eligible returning students will also see a room credit of $1,000 placed on their account for the fall 2020 semester.

Seniors who have successfully graduated will receive the board plan refund of $866 along with the room credit of $1,000, both of which will be placed on their student account by Friday, May 29. These credits will be applied to any outstanding balance first. Graduates will have the option to request all or part of the refund of the credit balance or direct it to the Hollins Fund.

If a student received approval to remain on the campus during the remote instruction period or received additional institutional aid from the university in order to cover her cost of education, she will not be eligible to receive a board refund or room credit. These students will receive a separate communication regarding their status.

Liberty University

As a customer service measure, Liberty University announces that students who did not return to use their on-campus residence hall room for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester will receive an automatic $1,000 credit toward any of their Fall 2020 charges (room, board, tuition, fees).  Students who choose not to return to Liberty for Fall 2020 will not be eligible for the credit.

Graduating students who resided in an on-campus residence hall, did not return for the remainder of Spring 2020, and have completed a graduation application for Spring 2020 will have the $1,000 credit applied to their student account for the spring semester. If the application of $1,000 to the graduating student’s account creates a credit balance after all Spring 2020 charges are processed, the amount of the credit balance remaining will be refunded to the student according to the method the student selected during their previous financial check-in process.

Those who are eligible for this credit can expect to see it appear on their account on April 30, 2020.  This voluntary credit award only pertains to decisions made regarding students not returning to make use of their on-campus residence halls by March 28, 2020.


Mary Baldwin University

Residential Seniors

Graduating seniors will receive a one-time cash refund or credit against unpaid balances equivalent to 45% of semester room and board fees, less 30% to cover the university’s ongoing financial obligations. MBU will send seniors their refund checks via U.S. mail after May Term.


Spring semester room and board (Ultimate 19): $4,865

Unused portion (45%): $2,189

30% reduction for fixed costs: $657

Final adjusted credit/refund: $1,532

Returning Residential Students

Room and Board Credit

Returning students will receive a credit to their account equivalent to 45% of semester room and board fees, less 30% to cover the university’s ongoing financial obligations. After funds are applied to balances owed for spring semester 2020, any remaining funds will carry forward as a credit toward fall 2020 room and board charges.


Spring semester room and board (Ultimate 19): $4,865

Unused portion (45%): $2,189

30% reduction for fixed costs: $657

Final adjusted credit: $1,532

Summer Learning Grant

Returning residential students will be given a grant equivalent to $1,380 that applies exclusively to registering for one online MBU summer class at no cost to enable them to maintain progress toward graduation. Remember to reach out to your academic advisor for guidance about what courses to take to stay on track with your major or meet general education requirements. To claim the credit, simply register online through MyMBU by June 1.

Savings in 2020–21

As MBU reported earlier this year, there will be no tuition increase in 2020–21, and the planned 3% increase in room and board fees has been deferred and will not take effect next year.


Randolph College

Will I get a refund of room and board?

Academic courses will continue, albeit online. Randolph’s faculty members are working extremely hard to adapt our in-person classes to the online experience. Students remaining at home for the remainder of the semester will receive a refund for meals and housing during this time period. Because student financial aid packages vary, this reimbursement will not be the same for every student. Information regarding these refunds will be provided by the end of next week.

Randolph-Macon College

We are finalizing our calculations and intend to provide you with information about your exact credit amount by next Thursday, April 23, on which day your credit will be applied to your Student Account onMyMaconWeb.Of course, there is a large degree of variability in Room and Board packages, and we want to make sure we get it right.On Monday, April 20, we will share FAQs that will describe precisely how we have calculated our credit formula as well as address further questions that you may have.

When your credit is applied to your Student Account, please use the link to theR-MC COVID-19 Room/Board Credit Form on MyMaconWeb.It will enable you to claim or apply your credit.
We will offer three options, of which you may choose one or more:
1. Apply the credit to next semester.
2. Request a refund. If you select this option, instructions will be provided.
3. Apply your credit or a portion thereof as a charitable donation to the College. We are enormously grateful to those families who have already indicated a desire to donate a portion of their credit as a charitable gift contribution which will help us meet the growing needs of many of our students and families as we move forward.
Roanoke College

Will I receive a credit for unused Room and Board Charges?

Yes. Residential students who were required to leave campus early because of the COVID-19 pandemic will automatically receive a credit on their student account. No further action is required on your part. The amount of the credit varies by meal plan and selected residence hall, but generally represents 50% of the semester charge reduced by a share of the ongoing fixed costs funded by room and board charges. (Examples of these fixed costs include wages and benefits necessary to retain our valued dining and residence halls employees, as well as debt service and other costs.)

For example, students with the 19-meal plan who live in a standard double will receive an account adjustment credit of $2,280.

What if I am a commuter student and selected a meal plan?

Commuter students who selected a meal plan will also receive an account adjustment credit for the unused portion of their fees.

When will I receive my credit adjustment?

Credits will be applied to your student account by Thursday, April 16. If students had a balance outstanding on their account, the credit will go toward that balance. The Business Office will begin processing refunds to graduating seniors over the next two weeks.

How do I request a refund?

If you prefer to receive a refund instead of carrying forward the credit for future year charges, please submit a Refund Request and it will be processed within two weeks.

Graduating seniors will automatically receive a refund disbursement of any remaining credit balance, including unspent Maroon Money.

Can my refund be deposited in my bank account through direct deposit?

If the refund will be made to the student then it is beneficial, for fastest processing, to have a bank account entered for Reimbursements & Refunds. Students may do this online in Self Service by the following steps.

Log in Self Service – click Banking

Add Account

Enter routing number and bank account number

Confirm numbers and designate for Reimbursement & Refunds


Verification will occur when processed (nothing more is required from the student)

What about funds on my Maroon Card?

All unused Maroon Money or Dining Dollars on your Maroon Card will remain available for use in the 2020-21 academic year. Graduating seniors will receive an automatic refund of remaining funds, and the College will waive all normal processing fees.

Will I receive a tuition refund?

As courses and activities are continuing remotely, the College will not be issuing account credit adjustments for tuition, technology fees or student activity fees.

Shenandoah University 

We’d previously announced that Shenandoah will prorate residential room and board (and commuter meal plans) for the spring semester. Because this process necessitates an individual approach governed by Federal Financial Aid guidelines to each student’s account, it is a time-consuming process and we appreciate your patience. You will see a credit adjustment to your student account by Friday, April 17. (If there was an outstanding balance on your student account, any credit adjustment will be applied directly to your spring 2020 outstanding balance.)

On that same April 17 date, you will receive additional information on how to access that refund with multiple options:

Credit to next year’s tuition, room and board (with a 2% bonus)

Direct payment to you

Choose to help other Shenandoah students who are in great financial need


Sweet Briar College

Q: Will refunds be issued for tuition?

A: Because classes are continuing, there will not be any kind of refund of tuition.

Q: Will refunds or credits be issued for room and board?

A: We are prorating room and board and we will credit the pro-rated amount to student accounts as they return for the fall.

Q: Will other fees be credited?

A: Yes. We’ll be looking at other fees, like riding fees, for example, and looking at appropriate credits for those.

Q: How will seniors get credited?

A: Upon successful graduation, seniors will receive a refund.

Q: What does the crediting mean for students who may be on payment plans?

A: It is important to follow your payment plan. At the end of the semester, we’ll look at fall balances for returning students and first apply any credit to existing balances and credit or refund the remainder.

Q: Why was the decision made to change the locks and is there a financial cost to that?

A: The locks on all buildings have what’s called a core. When buildings are not used or students are off-campus, we change the core for security reasons. There’s no cost to the College to do that.

Q: Will there be a refund for parking passes?

A: No.

Q: How are we supporting students whose on-campus jobs provided a necessary source of income?

A: Students will continue to be paid through the spring semester.

See college website for more information.

University of Lynchburg

The University of Lynchburg will provide a 50% credit for room and board for the Spring 2020 semester. Students on the Hornet declining balance meal plan will have their remaining balances credited to their account for use in the fall semester. Although the undergraduate handbook states that refunds will not be granted if there is a recess of classes due to a pandemic, the severity of the current crisis and the hardships placed upon students and families make the provision of an appropriate credit the correct action for the University.

Credits will be issued with the following guidelines:

Continuing students will have the 50% room and board cost credited to their account for Fall 20/21. The existing balance of the Hornet declining balance plan will be pushed to the fall.

Seniors will have the 50% room and board cost credited to their account, and will receive a refund for any positive balance on their account after May 18, 2020. Existing Hornet meal plan balances will be part of the credit to their accounts.

Students transferring or withdrawing from the institution after the Spring 2020 semester will be able to receive a refund for any positive balance on their account after May 18, 2020.

The processing of credits or refunds will not occur until after May 18 or until the student accounts staff is able to return to campus, whichever is later. The University of Lynchburg will follow state and federal guidelines relative to gatherings and temporary business closures related to COVID-19, in order to protect its staff, the campus community, and the general public. Students should expect that processing the credits will take a few weeks.

Please contact the University’s Business Office at 434.544.8606 or if you have questions about the room and board credit.


University of Richmond

In determining the adjustments for student housing and meal plan charges, the University calculated the time away from campus as constituting 43.75% of the semester. Accordingly, we will be issuing a credit of 43.75% of the Spring semester room rate, adjusted to reflect the pro-rata portion of any University scholarship or grant aid received for the semester. Students living in University housing will receive a minimum credit of $330.

Credits for meal plans will be calculated in two parts. First, students will receive a credit of 43.75% of the portion of the meal plan not attributable to dining dollars, adjusted to reflect the pro-rata portion of University scholarship or grant aid received for the semester. Second, students with dining dollars will be credited for the unused cash balance as of March 25. Students will be credited dollar-for-dollar for the unspent balance — it will not be prorated nor will it be adjusted for University scholarship or grant aid.

In addition to housing and meal charges, students will also be credited for parking and graduation fees. Students holding University parking permits will be credited for 43.75% of the cost allocable to the Spring semester. For those students who applied to graduate in May, your graduation fees will be fully credited to you.


Virginia Union University

At this time, student refunds will be processed only for undergraduate and graduate students who have paid all tuition and fees and have student account credit balances as a result of federal or private student aid. The university is developing a strategy on prorating room and board charges for the spring semester. All undergraduate and graduate students eligible for refunds will receive a secure communication from Financial Aid to provide electronic transfer information.


Virginia Wesleyan University

Information will also be forthcoming regarding a prorated student account credit for room and board for those who do not return to campus housing.


Washington and Lee

The University recognizes that this decision has financial consequences for students and their families. In determining account adjustments, the University has calculated the time away from campus as 30% of the year. Therefore, we will be issuing a credit of 30% of the annual room rate for university housing ($2,346) for all students who were in university housing for the Winter Term except those who received a waiver to remain on campus this spring. For this small group of students, accounts will be credited based on the date on which they are able to leave campus.

Students with a meal plan will receive a credit of 30% on the portion of the plan that is not flex dollars. For meal plans with flex dollars embedded, we will refund the full balance of the unused flex dollars. As an example, for a full meal plan, the adjustment will be $1,972.50 plus any unused portion of the $450 flex dollars in that plan.

Students who have received a waiver to remain in university housing this spring and students who remain in Lexington and register to take meals at the University will not receive this initial credit. However, they will be eligible for an account credit at the time that they are able to leave university housing or rescind their registration to take meals on campus.




The Surprising Way Students Can Lose Their Aid

Our piece,  The Surprising Way Students Can Lose Their Aid, is in the September 9th edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Please let us know if you have any thoughts about SAP.



Statewide Acceptance Rates

VPAP has a great visual of college acceptance rates across Virginia.

It’s a good reminder for parents and students that while the super selective elite schools have very low acceptance rates, there are plenty of schools with reasonable rates. Consider this from Pew Research:

“The great majority of schools, where most Americans get their postsecondary education, admit most of the people who apply to them, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Education Department data.”

Keep these numbers in mind as you put together your college lists.


Last Minute Items for College

If you find this helpful, consider subscribing to our newsletter so you can receive it right to your inbox!

The Last Minute List, 2019 Edition

We’ve got a few tips to save you some money and stress before you hit the road for college. We’ve collected these over the years from parent and student suggestions, and we hope they help your family.

Start with the back-up plan. You’ll undoubtedly forget a few things or need something at the last minute – so pull out Google Maps and find the nearest Target, CVS, Bed Bath and Beyond, wherever you like to shop. Just plan on making a shopping run and it will reduce the stress.

Next, get some school-specific advice on important items. Check in with the Dean of Students or Student Housing website to get some great ideas that will work with your particular dorm. Leverage the experience of previous students and their parents to make your life easier. What furniture is in the dorm? What is the clearance under the bed? Some Virginia schools will even rent you a small refrigerator and microwave.

Tip: Check one or two other schools for their lists of what to bring too. Look for the Office of Student Life or Student Housing. Larger schools will be more likely to have lists available to read.

Set up Amazon Prime or Prime Student before you go, and add the new address to your account. You’ll want to check with Student Housing to find the correct delivery address for a student living in the dorms. It can be a relief to know that most anything you find you need can be delivered to your son or daughter in just a couple of days.

Things We Love for Mom and Dad

Check into insurance. Some (not all) homeowner’s policies will cover your student’s possessions at college, but they will also be covered by your policy deductible. If your child is taking anything valuable (like a laptop), it might be worth checking into a separate renter’s insurance policy with lower limits and a lower deductible.

Most colleges offer tuition insuranceConsumer Reports explains what it is and how to decide if it makes sense for you. One thing to note: many policies are sold semester by semester, not for the full year, so be sure you know the full cost. You have to buy the insurance before the semester starts.

Update your auto insurance policy. If your student is taking a car to college, you’ll want to update your policy with that new location. If they are not taking a car, check with your insurer to see if you can save money. Many companies will reduce your rates if your teen is not at home to be driving your car.

If they will be driving, it might make sense to arrange for AAA or some other sort of roadside assistance coverage. Our older children had AAA coverage, and even though it thankfully wasn’t used much, it did come in handy at least twice, and it provided us with some needed peace of mind. Remember, the students with cars are the ones asked to drive on road-trips.

Things We Love for Students

The Bunk Buddy.  (Great for home bunks too for younger siblings.)  A space saving shelf that “hangs” off the side of your bunk rail or bed frame.  Attaches with no tools.  Great for a cell phone or a cup of water.

Long charging cords.  Dorm rooms may or may not have convenient outlet placement.  Six foot charging cords are a great investment, and there are even ten foot versions.  You do have to be careful with off-brand versions not working well, so do your homework before you buy. Bonus: take a power strip or multi-plug adapter too.

Under the bed storage. Parents know how valuable this space can be, but the trick with dorm rooms is that you don’t know the dimensions. See if you can find out from the college or from other students so you can be prepared to take advantage of this key real estate!

Small fan.  One thing that older dorm rooms have in common – you need a fan. There’s no reason to haul around a big box type, this little one can do the trick just fine.

Bluetooth speaker.  If you like music, you might have one of these, but someone in your dorm room needs this speaker!

Mattress Topper.  Yes the beds are probably XL, but there is not a mattress in a college dorm room in America that will not feel better with a foam topper.

Textbooks.  What’s to love about textbooks? Well, if you follow our suggestions, the money you save will buy some of these other essentials.  If you only have time for one site for textbooks, try

Two Ideas that Make Sense

First: don’t take anything to college that would be a disaster if lost. Does your teenager need your house key? Do you have a copy of the items in their wallet?  What would you do if they lost their phone? Are they taking a checkbook?

Second: get your documents in order. For some time now, we’ve been encouraging parents to consider three different legal documents for each of their college-age children. You can read more details here, but the three documents are a power of attorney, a FERPA release, and a HIPAA release.

The power of attorney can be helpful both in the case of an emergency or if you need to conduct local business with your child away. Talk to your attorney about the best way to handle this for your family.

The FERPA release will come from the college, and you will have to do some digging to find it. Colleges don’t mind sending parents an invoice, but forget about other things that you think are important, like grades. It’s not their fault, it’s the law, and the FERPA release can grant you permission (from your child!) to have access to this information.

The HIPAA release is fairly common, and it allows you to get information from any healthcare providers that your student sees. If the college has an infirmary or other provider, you can get the release from them. Otherwise, we suggest a general release that you can send to a provider in the hopes that they will accept it.

August is a busy month – both exciting and stressful. We hope these tips come in handy. If you have any questions about any of these topics, please send us an email.


What a welcome tuition freeze looks like

This year, the General Assembly made a significant proposal to state colleges: agree to freeze in-state tuition and certain fees for one year, and receive a share of a special allotment (of over $50 million) from the state.  Other fees were allowed to increase.

The following table is our calculation of tuition and mandatory fees for next year for in-state freshmen at selected colleges.

Tuition and Mandatory Fees'18-'19'19-'20 
George Mason$12,462$12,564
Old Dominion$10,872$11,016
Virginia Tech$13,620$13,691
William & Mary$23,328$23,328
Christopher Newport$14,754$14,924
James Madison$12,016$12,206
Mary Washington$12,654$13,098
Virginia State$9,056$9,398

Sources: SCHEV, various news reports, and school websites


529 Plan Changes for 2018

It’s official. The tax legislation passed late in 2017 will allow for K-12 tuition costs up to $10,000 per year, per child.

Please read our newsletter for the full details of the changes, and if you have any questions, please drop us a note.

There’s no reason to leave money from tax savings on the table.


On-campus news

We like to report from time to time on goings-on at different colleges. After all, this is part of what you pay for. 

The current news that caught our eye is from Stanford. Stanford students will be voting soon on whether to reinstate a two-quarter Western Civilization course requirement covering the politics, history, philosophy, and culture of the Western world. It would seem like a no-brainer right? You might even have thought that such a course would be already required at one of our country’s most elite institutions.

Maybe you didn’t know that instead of such a course, Stanford offers “Food Talks: The Language of Food” and “The Science of Mythbusters.” Current Cost of Attendance: $67,000 per year.

However, it’s not clear if the effort will prevail. An opinion piece in The Stanford Daily quotes a student, Mara Chin Loy, saying that the initiative “actively participates in my dehumanization and the dehumanization of my communities…We don’t need to learn about Western civilization and its ideals, because we have spent every moment of our lives resisting and fighting to live and love ourselves, so that we can transcend Western values.”

As we’ve mentioned before, don’t assume your teenagers will be taught the same subjects that you were or that you want them to be taught. The best resource we know of for help in this area is by ACTA. (Stanford rates a C, by the way.)

We will provide updates as the story develops.



FREE Workshop, “Making College Affordable” – Monday, Feb. 8th

Join Us For Our FREE Workshop, “Making College Affordable,” hosted by the Twin Hickory Library on Monday, Feb. 8 at 7:00. No registration is required. See more details here:…/lib/eventsignup.asp…


Getting in to out-of-state public schools has never been easier

We’ve noted for some time that out-of-state public colleges often take a more casual admissions approach to full-pay out of state students. Out-of-state students supplement the tuition of in-state students. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, colleges need to balance their budgets and cover their very expensive overhead and pay for the growing number of departments, etc. However, as taxpayers of a state, do you believe your students should at least have first crack at state supported colleges? Most residents do.

 Look at some of these numbers, according to the Washington Post.  Forty-three of fifty flagship state universities enrolled a smaller percentage of in-state freshmen in 2014 vs. 10 years earlier.

The University of Alabama enrolled 72% Alabamians in 2004.  In 2014, that was 36%. It’s a fun campus, especially during the football season. Might at well take advantage of that popularity by boosting tuition revenues.

The good news is that UVa did not significantly increase the percentage of out-of-state freshman over this time. It remained at approximately 67% in-state. 

As you consider colleges to attend, parents need to know that out-of-state public schools might be very willing to admit your son or daughter.  However, don’t confuse admission with affordable, unless you have some serious academic smarts. There’s something in it for the schools too.





New FAFSA EFC calculator

For years, the Department of Education has kept the FAFSA4Caster EFC calculator at the same URL. Now they have moved it! We will update the links on our site, but archived issues of our newsletter will still contain the incorrect URL (as they cannot be changed).

In the meantime, the EFC Calculator can be found at this URL, which really rolls off the tongue:

Tech note: the website is not URL-friendly. If you get an error or “Session Expired” page, try closing your browser and reloading the website. If that doesn’t work, do the Google trick.


Where to find answers?

There are lots of people offering help about paying for college.  The problem is, the advice is often wrong!

Andrew Ferguson has an absolutely hilarious version of this in his excellent book Crazy U. He spends an evening reading message boards on College Confidential where he finds a mix of good advice, bad advice, and non-advice. Add to that some petty bickering and downright rudeness. In the end, he says, “…nobody can tell you [the answer] because nobody knows, and nobody will admit that nobody knows.”  He concludes with, “How seriously are we supposed to take the opinions of a person who identifies himself as ‘boogerman’?”

Too true!

Looking at College Confidential today, a poster asks if there is any harm in not accepting federal student loans that were offered as part of a financial aid package. The simple answer is no. Loans are not discretionary, basically every student can get a federal loan for unmet need, and you can take it or leave it, it’s up to you. But the thread goes on for post after post, with comments about effect on grants, asking what school the poster is talking about, bringing in subsidized vs. unsubsidized loans.

In the end, the poster says the consensus is that it won’t hurt, she that’s what she’s going with!

Advice on how to pay for college doesn’t have to come from taking a consensus of anonymous opinions. Our blog and newsletter are free and address the very issues that affect most families.  We are always available if you have unanswered questions too. 

Remember, every family’s situation is unique. Even the best advice from a friend or family member might not apply to your family.  Please let us know if we can help.


Is this what you want to pay for?

As parents, you are going to pay tens of thousands of dollars for your kids to go to college. You have a voice in what you are buying, but that begins with actually knowing what is going on behind the ivy covered walls.

You might have read that UNC-Chapel Hill has been under scrutiny for several years for academic misdeeds with student-athletes. What you probably don’t know is that, according to a null from the UNC Writing Center, UNC advises against using words such as “mailman”, “man-made”, and “policeman”.  After all, the guide says, “English has changed since the Declaration of Independence was written.” The “guide” continues with ways to make sure you don’t offend anyone by using such phrases.  Are our students so weak that something like “all men are created equal” is offensive if you are female?

UNC isn’t the only school up to these sorts of shenanigans. They are going on at colleges everywhere, but they don’t point this stuff out during prospect visits or orientation sessions for parents. This is the day to day nitty-gritty.  A professor at NC State says she will mark down grades if students write “mankind” in her women’s and gender studies class. Washington State is reeling and back peddling after a professor there said students would be marked down for using words such as “illegal aliens”.  Really?

Free speech seems to only go in one direction these days.  You might think these are extreme examples, but colleges across the country are including “trigger” warnings about course material.  Student groups that don’t like on-campus speakers often demand some alternative “safe space” where they can go after hearing some view that conflicts with their own (see “In College and Hiding from Scary Ideas” – Strong Language Warning!)

When it comes to education, ACTA does a terrific job of analyzing the core curriculum at colleges all across the country. You’ll be amazed to see how easy it is to meet the most basic requirements with silly courses.  Visit

There’s no reason to ignore your values when choosing a college. It’s true it’s your son or daughter’s experience, not yours, but if you are paying for it you might want to be informed about what’s going on.  


Do your kids know what college costs?

Probably not.

According to a Brookings study from December 2014, half of incoming freshmen cannot get within $5,000 of how much their first year of college will cost. Less than one-third can predict within 30% what they are actually paying for college.

If you don’t tell them what college costs, you cannot expect the college to tell them. They are too busying worrying about trigger warnings for “offensive” material and microaggressionsWashington State instructors have reportedly told students that they risk receiving a failing grade for using offensive language. Okay, so what’s offensive? “Male” and “female”.  In one class, students will lose one point every time they say “illegal” alien.

Don’t expect your kids to learn anything about financial responsibility in that environment. You might want to have that conversation yourself. Just be careful what words you use.


Paying college tuition bills

Your son or daughter has ‘overlooked’ the tuition invoice that came by email, and now it’s due. In a hurry, you have them set you up as an authorized payer so you can pay the bill online.  You go online and pull out your credit card to pay the bill and wait, what’s this about a Service Fee???

Yes, most every college will charge somewhere around 2.5% – 3.0% if you want to pay by credit card.  That’s huge (and ridiculous).

But they do give you another option – enter your bank account information. You can do that but before you jump at that, remember those headlines you’ve seen about online hacking. Target, Home Depot, Anthem, the Federal Government…it’s not to say that your information is not safe, but make sure you take that risk into account.

One possible way to mitigate it and still use online access (remember, you can always mail a check if you have time) is to have a College Account at your bank. You can use that account information and not have to share your primary checking account information.  This can offer some level of practical security. You would transfer money from your primary account to the College Account and then pay the invoice.

Of course, you can have your student handle that too and deposit the money into their checking account – there are a number of ways to solve the problem. But don’t pay the credit card fee, and don’t jump at the chance to give your checking account information until you’ve thought about the alternatives.


The cost of living at college

Every college publishes a formal Cost of Attendance (COA) figure each year. This is also known as the sticker price. It has one purpose and that is for determining a cap on financial aid, including federal student and parent loans.

But here’s the crazy part: the Cost of Attendance may be way off when it comes to your family’s costs.

Here’s why. Only a portion of the COA goes directly to the college – the tuition and fees portion. For students living on campus and taking part in a standard meal plan, the amount included for room and board will probably be fairly close to accurate. (Be careful though – many colleges have dozens of housing and meal options and the COA may only include an “average” or typical plan.)

The other items in the COA are personal expenses (spending money), books and supplies, and transportation. These are merely estimates made by the college, they do not have to be correct. In fact, the higher the estimates, the higher the sticker price and the less affordable the college looks. There is pressure to keep these ‘other’ expense estimates low.

By far, the biggest non-tuition item is room and board. What happens to your COA if you move off-campus as many students do? Let’s look at a couple of examples.

At UVa, the 2014-15 COA is the same for room and board whether you are on or off campus. The clear implication is that you can rent an apartment for the same out of pocket cost as living on campus.  If you are heading to UVa and plan to live off campus, is that a reasonable assumption? Remember, you’ll most likely be leasing an apartment for 12 months, not the 9 that you are on campus.

In Northern Virginia, there are a number of colleges. You would think that the cost of living off campus would not vary significantly in the general area. An analysis of 8 colleges in a recent edition of Money magazine showed that living expense estimates ranged from $12,800 to $20,300. The authors estimated that your actual expenses to live off campus would be $20,400.

You might think that it’s just a bad estimate and that’s no big deal, but it is a big deal if you are relying on the college to give you a fair picture of your out-of-pocket expenses. What’s more, if you are relying on financial aid, even if you max out your aid you will not have enough money to live off-campus if the COA is significantly low.

The takeaway? Do your own homework on your out of pocket expenses!  We have a number of suggestions for parents on how to do that. For freshmen, the key is to focus on books and on personal expenses. Contact us if you’d advice for your family’s situation.


The number one financial worry… having enough money for retirement. But look at this twist.

Among families with children younger than 18, the number one worry is having enough money for college at 73% (retirement was second for this group). Source: Gallup

The battle between having enough for retirement and having enough for college is the major financial quandary for many American families. Our goal is to help you develop a plan to reduce your college costs so you can work toward achieving both of these!


Permission to eat Oreos?

Just a sampling of how out of whack things can get…a story today on parents needing to sign a permission slip for their child to have an Oreo at school. 

Compare that with college parents trying to find out if what their son or daughter’s GRADES are at school! If you haven’t yet had that fun experience,  you might want to read our piece on FERPA.

As we’ve seen with HIPAA and health records, put the word “privacy” in the title and people naturally think it’s about protecting information. That’s not always the case.  FERPA-protected information is collected, used, and sold to third parties. Shouldn’t parents at least be able to get the grades as easily as the invoices?


Can grandparents get tax benefits from 529 plans for grandchildren?

The best current tax benefit for education-related expenses is the American Opportunity Tax Credit. To qualify for the AOTC, the student must be a dependent on your tax return, so that’s going to rule out most grandparents from claiming the AOTC (or the Lifetime Learning Credit).

The biggest financial benefit to grandparents of using 529 plans is that the money comes out of your estate all at once.  You can give a grandchild an annual gift without estate or gift tax consequences ($14,000 in 2015), but you can deposit 5 years worth of annual gifts into a 529 plan today ($70,000). That money comes out of your estate but you retain control as the 529 account owner. That’s not really a current tax benefit, but it could help with your estate planning, especially with two grandparents and multiple grandchildren.

The question of how grandparents can best help with college costs is complex and often overlooked. It is very easy to make mistakes that have financial aid or tax consequences. We’ve written about this in more detail which you can find here. If you have questions about your specific situation, please drop us a note.



The Future of 529s Suddenly In Peril Under President Obama

Update: Obama pulls his own proposal due to pressure from, well, basically everyone except the totally out-of-touch people that came up with the idea in the first place. So the proposal won’t go through this time, but watch out for the future. You’ve been warned that what you think is “safe” from government taxes isn’t really safe at all.


President Obama is proposing changes to 529 plans that might shock you – he is in favor of taking away the tax-free nature of the accounts, essentially the entire reason for having a 529 in the first place. 

Whether or not he is successful is another matter that will unfold over the coming months. The significant takeaway for parents, though, is that what the federal government giveth, the federal government can taketh away. Families opened 529 accounts with the expectation that favorable tax treatment would continue, and now that is in doubt.

What other areas might the federal government break its supposed promise in future years? Roth IRAs perhaps?

The NY Times has a summary of the proposal here.


NBC12 Story: Students Missing Out on Financial Aid

Great piece by Heather Sullivan of NBC12 on college students leaving money on the table by not filling out the FAFSA and applying for all the financial aid they are entitled to. Heather was kind enough to include some of our comments, and I thought I’d share a bit more information. The NBC12 piece can be found here.

It’s a shame that students who would qualify for need-based aid don’t go through the necessary steps to receive it. If you don’t know if you qualify for need-based aid, go to null and run the calculator to see what your Expected Family Contribution will be. If your EFC is less than the cost of one year of college, you will qualify for need-based financial aid. Qualifying for aid is not the same thing as receiving aid, but you have to start with figuring out if you even qualify.

But say you don’t qualify, and many families don’t. Where do you look for money for college?

The best place to start is merit aid from the colleges themselves. But there is a catch: not all colleges award merit aid. Among those that do, the levels of generosity are all over the board. You want to apply to colleges that are generous AND at which you will be a good academic fit. The package for the most desirable students is often better than for the last student admitted. It is not uncommon to receive grants or scholarships

Virginia offers a Tuition Assistance Grant (VTAG) for residents attending private colleges in Virginia. This year the amount is $3,100. You do need to apply for this grant through your college’s financial aid office.

Tax breaks are an often overlooked way to help pay for college. There are something like 18 different provisions of the tax code for education expenses, but the biggest is the American Opportunity Tax Credit at up to $2,500 per year per child if you qualify. If you don’t qualify, is it possible for your son or daughter to claim it?

Local, private scholarships continue to fly under the radar as a means to pay for college. The key is to find scholarships you connect with! It takes work to complete the applications, so you want to make your time count. We can help: our free scholarship newsletter is filled with tips and highlights, and our CFG ScholarBank is a free database of local scholarships.

These are just a few other sources of money for college. Every family’s situation is different and your plan to pay for college will reflect that. Please let us know if we can help you figure out what works for your family.


The importance of getting a FERPA release

We’ve mentioned the importance of getting FERPA releases from your college students, especially right at the start of freshman year. Parents do not know that colleges will not communicate directly with them about their children. Federal rules and all that. It’s one thing to not be able to get grades or course information, but the Richmond Times-Dispatch has a incredibly tragic story of how this lack of this "educational rights" stuff can go horribly wrong. Maybe it’s well-intentioned, but it’s up to you to know what’s best for your family.

For more information on getting releases, see our newsletter piece, The Summer of Discontent.


Follow us on Twitter!

You can now follow us on Twitter @CFGScholarBank for the latest in local, private scholarships! We will be bringing you new listings, upcoming expirations, and helpful news and tips.



Student Debt Continues to Rise

The good folks at The Project on Student Debt have released student loan numbers for the Class of 2013 and we see a mixed report. A few takeaways:  70% of the Class of 2013 had student loan debt; the average loan amount for that group was $28,400; averages and percentages very significantly across states. Virginia students were right in the middle: 59% of students had debt, and the average amount was $25,780.

Faced with these debt levels upon graduation, it’s important that recent graduates get their financial lives in order right away.  Choosing the correct repayment plan is part of that process, as well as making a sensible spending plan that allows them to enjoy their new life while planning for the future.

The report can be found in its entirety here.


3 Well-intentioned mistakes paying for college

We all want to avoid mistakes, especially expensive ones. Sometimes all it takes is a little planning and thinking ahead. Here are three common mistakes that parents make when it comes to paying for college.

Selling investments at the wrong time

You might have some investments that you’ve socked away to pay for college. Great! If they are in a regular investment account (not a 529), when you sell them you will incur capital gains.  Capital gains will increase your income which will increase your Expected Family Contribution on the FAFSA.  As a result, you will not qualify for need-based aid that you might qualify for otherwise.

So what do you do? You can still sell, but you have to sell earlier than you think. Let’s say your daughter is a risking junior in high school. You will file your first FAFSA in January of her senior year.  The FAFSA will ask about your income during the calendar year that she is part junior (spring) and part senior (summer and fall).  This means that if you want to sell some investments, you should do so before December 31 of your daughter’s junior year.

(Note: the CSS Profile form that some colleges use will still pick up this income.)

Taking a retirement plan distribution

The FAFSA considers retirement plan distributions to be income in the year received. The increased income will hurt your chances for need-based aid. You won’t have to pay a penalty if the money is used for college, but you will have to pay taxes on the earnings and your EFC will go up.  Even a return of Roth contributions is picked up on the FAFSA as untaxed income.

So what do you do? It is possible in for the financial aid office to adjust your EFC if the retirement plan distribution was made for certain specific circumstances. (Just needing the money to pay for college is not going to be one of them.) If your distribution was one-time and you have a documented hardship, it might be worth pursuing an adjustment. We can help you with that. In general, though, if you have not taken the distribution, don’t!

Grandparents paying the college bill

This happens far too often – grandparents who want to help but aren’t sure how, and they learn that there are estate tax benefits to paying tuition directly, so they do. They’ve done a very nice thing, but it will likely hurt your financial aid.

So what do you do? If you are lucky enough to be in this situation, you want to be very careful in how you structure your funding plan. Don’t do anything until you’ve considered all the options and how they will impact your family. This is a great example of how ‘what works for one family doesn’t necessarily work for another’ holds true.  Understand the implications on your aid and your EFC and you’ll make wiser decisions.


VTAG deadline approaching

Don’t miss the deadline for the VTAG scholarship!

If you are a Virginia resident and plan on attending a private, non-profit college this year, you most likely qualify for the Virginia Tuition Assistant Grant. The amount of the award can change annually based on what the General Assembly does, and the maximum amount for 2014-15 is $3,100 for undergraduate and $1,550 for graduate students.

The deadline for applying for the grant is July 31! 

How do you apply?  The application can be found on the SCHEV website here.  If you are not familiar with VTAG, the best place to start is to call your private college’s financial aid office and make sure you are going about the process in the right way.

This is low-hanging fruit when it comes to paying for college and most schools do an excellent job of communicating with families about VTAG.  However, with summer schedules and vacations, deadlines can creep up on you. Don’t miss this one! 

SCHEV also provides a detailed brochure about VTAG if you’d like more information. 

A full list of participating schools is below: 

Appalachian College of Pharmacy

Averett University

Bridgewater College

Christendom College

Eastern Mennonite University

Edward Via Virginia College ofOsteopathic Medicine

Emory & Henry College

Ferrum College

George Washington University (VA campus only)

Hampden-Sydney College

Hampton University

Hollins University

Liberty University

Lynchburg College

Mary Baldwin College

Marymount University

Randolph College

Randolph-Macon College

Regent University

Roanoke College

Shenandoah University

Southern Virginia University

Sweet Briar College

University of Richmond

Virginia Intermont College

Virginia Union University

Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine

Virginia Wesleyan College

Washington & Lee University



CFG in the news


Richmond Times-Dispatch

Primer on Student Debt

Richmond Times-Dispatch

That college may not be out of your range



Norfolk Virginian-Pilot

College degree = job = high salary? It depends.



Fairfax Times

“Cost of college a multi-layered proposition”

Fairfax Times

“Deciphering financial aid terms often tougher than college itself”



Charlottesville Daily Progress

New data improve college cost, earning comparions

Charlottesville Daily Progress

Know how to decipher award letters




Website launched for local scholarships



Roanoke Times

“Graduates earnings inform expectations”


CFG in the Times-Dispatch

The Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a good story about paying for college – another excellent article by reporter Karin Kapsidelis! Here are a few excerpts with a link to the full article:

A primer on student debt — Know your options

High school seniors weighing financial aid packages may be excused if they feel they already need a college degree to understand what they’re getting themselves into.

Financial aid, a mix of loans that must be repaid and grants that do not, is designed to lower the sticker price if not the eventual shock.

Here’s advice from a higher-education administrator, a financial adviser and a student on how to avoid pitfalls that pile on the debt:

Also contributing to the debt problem is the way in which students receive what’s left of the loan to cover their expenses after colleges deduct tuition and fees, said Jonathan West, director of College Funding Group in Richmond.

This money is part of a student’s loan, but it is oddly called “a refund.”

“It’s misnomer,” West said. “You always know around campus when the refunds are in because it’s like payday for 18-year-olds.”

The refund is meant to last a semester, but at some schools it goes on a debit card and even the student ID, “and all they need to do is swipe it,” he said.

“It’s convenient, but it’s really too convenient,” West said, especially with no one looking over a freshman’s shoulder to see whether it’s spent on pizza or a textbook.

“There’s nobody intervening,” he said, to tell the student “you’re going to be paying this back for 10 years. That Domino’s pizza is really expensive.”

Graduate in 4 years or less

It’s the ultimate strategy to lower the cost of attendance. For a 120-credit bachelor’s degree, that means taking 15 credit hours per semester, but they have to be the right courses.

So be deliberate about your course selection: Don’t sign up for classes just because they sound fun, [Luke] Schultheis said.

Apply for scholarships

Students too often think a scholarship for a few hundred dollars isn’t worth their effort, but win a few here and there and they add up.

That’s been the strategy of [Lorraine] SantaLucia, who said all her awards will allow her to graduate without debt.

SantaLucia, whose scholarships have ranged from $250 to $5,000, founded the group Scholarship Sharing to spread her philosophy. She hopes to turn the idea into a nonprofit when she graduates.

Her advice: Shop local for scholarship opportunities. The offering from a local organization may be smaller, but you’re not competing against thousands of other students to win it.

Students who do that often earn more credits than they need but not necessarily the ones required to graduate on time.

Some schools, including VCU, have software programs to help students stay on track with the courses necessary to complete their degree program.

Fill out the FAFSA

FAFSA — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — is the starting point for receiving all types of aid, including need-based grants, federal student loans and the Plus loans for parents.

Some colleges also require the PROFILE, administered by the College Scholarship Service, to determine how they will award institutional financial aid.

PROFILE takes a deeper look at a family’s finances. While FAFSA doesn’t include a family’s retirement accounts or home value, PROFILE does.

West recommends listing a realistic value for your home — what you would expect to get in a quick 30-day sale.

And because a student’s assets will factor into aid awards, it makes sense to use those funds to buy a computer and other college necessities before filing either the FAFSA or

PROFILE forms, he said.

Start planning early

Part of the problem is that “colleges let you in and then tell you how much it’s going to cost,” West said.

The worst time to decide how much to borrow is after the acceptance letter is received, but that’s what many families do, he said.

“They don’t figure out how much they can afford to borrow. They just borrow what they need to borrow,” he said, with long-term repercussions for the family’s finances.

“Money shouldn’t be the sole determinant, but the truth is, for many families it is a very important factor,” he said.

West recommends beginning to narrow the “college universe” based on affordability in the 10th or 11th grade with the help of the U.S. Department of Education’s FAFSA4caster, which gives an early estimate of eligibility for aid, and with the net-price calculators that schools must post on their websites.

The best of these calculators incorporate the college’s resources, philosophy about aid, government grants, and possible merit scholarships all into one summary, West said.

But be aware: The calculators are also marketing tools, because higher education is a business, too, he said. “It’s not all warm fuzzies and ivy-covered walls.”

Parents often think their bright teen will coast through with merit aid, but that’s unlikely. West describes merit aid as a pot of money that colleges use as an inducement to enroll the most desirable students.

“They want to give you just what it takes to get you to attend, but not more than that,” he said.


Full article:  Primer on Student Debt


FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

What is a college funding plan?

A college funding plan is your road map to paying for college.  It answers the two big questions:  “How much does college cost?” and “How do we pay for it?”

Why do we need a plan?

You only need a plan if it is important to you to keep a lid on college costs so they don’t spill over and hurt your other financial goals and objectives.  If that’s not a big deal to you, you can wing it.

Doesn’t our financial plan cover paying for college?

If you mean a comprehensive financial plan (only about 1/3rd of people even have one, and fewer than that actually follow them), then it probably does have a section on education.  However, a good college funding plan covers far more than just saving for education.  When your plan was put together, did you know exactly where your teenager would be going to college and what that college would cost?

Don’t we just have to pay what the college says we owe?

Yes, when you get the invoice you have to pay it. However, “what the college says we owe” is a moving target.  Your invoice will be different than that of other students, in the same way your airfare is different than other passengers. 

A good college funding plan addresses ways to reduce what the college will say you owe, well before the invoice arrives.

What goes into our plan?

The first part of your plan will focus on what college will cost your family – that’s different than what college costs.  In-state schools, out-of-state schools, selective private schools, community colleges all have different prices and different financial aid resources.  What you pay may be significantly different than another family of a student in the same class.  Your plan addresses ways to both figure out and reduce what college will cost.

The second part of your plan is to identify all available sources of money.  It is perfectly possible to borrow 100% of the cost of college (including spending money) from the federal government through student loans and parent loans, but is that wise for your financial situation?

Our checklist starts with your family’s cash flow and savings to see what can be reallocated to college costs.  What education tax credits will you qualify for? Do you have the generosity of a grandparent or other relative to count on? Do you have a 529 plan or prepaid plan? Can you count on income from a part-time job for your teenager? Can a tuition payment plan help?

These are just some of the items we examine. The important thing is that your plan includes all the items that are relevant to your family.

Loans can be part of a college funding plan, they just should not be the first thing you turn to.  Loans have to be repaid at some point, so you are going to need to come up with the money eventually.  If a careful analysis shows you have confidence in your ability to do that, loans are an option.

What about all the “other” costs of college, like books and spending money?

The extra costs are significant and can add up to thousands of dollars per year.  40% of families report having some major expense they did not expect.  Your plan should identify these costs and address ways to proactively lower them. 

Here’s a huge cost that is often a surprise:  the fifth year.  It is increasingly common, especially at state schools, for students to need an extra semester or two to graduate.  Nothing will blow your budget like an extra year.  Your plan should help keep you on track to a four year graduation.

Why don’t colleges tell us about all this?

Colleges can be wonderful institutions, but it’s not their job to tell you how to pay them less money.  That’s your job.  Fortunately, your college funding plan will do just that.

When should we get started with our plan?

Today!  What you can do will vary depending on the age of your child, but it’s never too early for information and it’s never too late to make changes.  Ideally, parents of sophomores and juniors have more flexibility than parents of seniors or current undergrads.

Our son or daughter has graduated with student loans.  Can you help?

Yes.  Student loan repayment is incredibly complicated and college graduates are not prepared to make the important choices that are required of them.  We go over the different repayment programs, cover the immediate and long-term implications, and help your son or daughter create a loan repayment plan.  As situations change, the repayment plan will also change.

Can’t I make a plan myself?

Yes, absolutely. A college funding plan is not incredibly complicated.  If you’ve been through the college process lately, understand how financial aid works and how to lower your net price, can tell when a financial aid award should be appealed, can compare the various and misleading aid award letters, are able to get a grasp on the 15+ education tax provisions and 10 loan options, know how to complete the FAFSA properly, and can manage your costs while in school, you do not need help.

Or, if you’d like help, or are just too busy for all that, we can get your plan started in about an hour.




Scholarship newsletter launches

We’ve just launched a new email newsletter focused on finding, winning, and using local private scholarships! If you’d like to subscribe so you don’t miss an issue, please click here.  You’ll get in-depth tips and advice as well as important input from area counselors.  Scholarship season is heating up, you won’t want to miss an issue!

Local scholarships are just part of the tremendous generosity in Richmond – thank you scholarship sponsors.