Updated: Jul 7, 2020
The other day, my daughter told me she didn't really want to go to campus in the fall. She will be a freshman at a school in state. In light of COVID-19, the prospect of being stuck in a dorm with a schedule full of online courses, a roommate she doesn't know, and the possible lack of any "college experience" events, the thought of leaving home was unappealing.
Ideas came flooding in - take the first year at a local community college, take a gap year, see if she could get the on-campus living requirement waived for a short period, etc, etc. The sticking point, though, was a very large in-state scholarship known as the #PalmettoFellows (part of the #lifescholarship offered through the @sclottery), worth approximately $9,000 over four years. According to the rules, if a freshman chooses ANYTHING other than attending a four year in-state university the first fall out of high school, this award disappears FOREVER. FOREVER!
How can a state punish any kid like this, faced with tough economic and emotional decisions, who may not be able to leave home straight away, we wondered, not to mention in the middle of a global pandemic? Walking away from a scholarship like this might leave a student unable to afford college ever again. Yet staying home for a short time might be just what they need in order to succeed in school. We also wondered whether all these other options were worth it, financially. But how would we decide?
Back to our college comparison spreadsheet! We entered in all the different scenarios, on separate tabs we created, as though each was the decision she would choose for the next four years. And we compared the final cost she would incur as a result. One answer stood out above the rest - stay home, attend her school of choice, and take all classes online. As she will be a freshman, this seemed fairly easy to accommodate in her schedule (not so with my senior math/math education major). This option, in theory, would enable her to keep Palmetto Fellows. The next question was - was this even possible and how would she get around the on-campus housing requirement for the university? We certainly didn't want to pay for what she wasn't going to use.
According to the school's website and social media, as far as we could tell, there was no lifting of the on-campus housing requirement, unless you lived nearby, but this didn't apply to us. The #COVID19 page on their website did not address the issue. I looked at every web page, every news announcement, every social media post and was met with silence regarding housing in this time of pandemic. So I went straight to the campus housing web page and put in a request to be contacted. After a polite email exchange with campus housing, the university admitted it has an (unpublished) policy to lift ALL on-campus housing requirements during COVID-19, semester by semester, if a student could show that they were registered 100% online.
This was the ticket! Definitely our #frugalwinoftheweek! Assuming she stayed home only freshman year, this amounted to a cost avoidance of close to $10,000 on room and board, AND it maintained all her scholarships, while being able to attend the school of her choice and pursue the degree of her choice! If she chose to stay home a second year, another $10,000 avoided! And all it took was an ask. A simple question of whether an institution would make an exception based on an individual set of circumstances made all the difference!
My mother used to respond, when I would complain about not having something or not getting what I wanted from someone, "Well, have you ASKED? Because your answer is always 'No' unless you ask." How wise she is!
Asking for what you want or need can make or break a financial decision. What potentially life-changing question will YOU ask today?
(Full disclosure - I DID also reach out to Palmetto Fellows and the SC Commission of higher education several weeks ago about how to maintain this scholarship in light of COVID-19 and have not yet received a response.)