Coronavirus Impact: What Do You Do If Your College Closes?

college closes

One thing is for certain – the COVID-19 pandemic has most certainly left many families in limbo. There are too many decisions, and not enough knowledge. I can’t tell you how many times in the last week my answer has been something like “we’ll have to wait and see” or “it depends.”

My kids are less than thrilled with my responses. Heck, I’m less than thrilled that those have to be my responses. I’m not really a planner, but I do like having a general idea of the next few months. Will I be conducting summer vacation in my backyard? Will we still be under stay-at-home orders and homeschooling two middle school boys six months from now? (Dear Lord, just no.)

In addition to families, colleges and universities have also found themselves playing a “wait and see” game. And that game may not play out well in the end.

Economic Impact

The sad reality of this pandemic is that there are serious economic implications for the higher education industry. Some colleges that were already operating on a shoestring budget and a hope and a prayer may not have a enough of a fiscal cushion to endure a significant decrease in enrollment or a semester with no revenue from housing or dining. Over 40 non-profit colleges have closed since 2016, with no pandemic. Smaller, private colleges tend to be the most at-risk. And this new, unchartered era of pandemic-influenced changes may present bigger economic challenges for colleges not generally considered at-risk.

Among many factors, one big question for most institutions right now is their international student population. Will overseas students be allowed to return? Or will they even want to? With so much uncertainty surrounding international travel and the issuance of visas right now, international enrollment is a wild card. Many institutions, even larger state-supported institutions, depend on the money brought in from large international enrollment numbers.

Most international students are wealthy and “full-pay” and their tuition dollars help fund universities as well as subsidize the tuition rates for domestic students. A significant decline in the number of international students could have huge fiscal implications for many universities.

So What Do You Do If Your College Closes?

You have options.

If this was going to be your first year, you may still be able to accept an offer of admission from another four-year institution that offered you admission, even if you withdrew your offer of admission when you accepted at your now-defunct college. Most colleges are worried about losing students over the summer and are more willing to entertain late acceptances this year to help ensure they meet their target enrollment numbers so don’t hesitate to ask.

RELATED: Coronavirus Impact: What If Colleges Don’t Reopen Fall 2020?

If you didn’t have any other four-year schools that offered you admission, if you just aren’t interested in any others, or if you’ve only completed one year of college, then your local community college might be the best and easiest option. Most community colleges use open enrollment and offer basic first and second year introductory courses that are generally transferable to other institutions. It could be a good and affordable stop-gap option while you take the year to investigate other four-year options again.


If you’re an upperclassman, you will need to look into transfer enrollment to another four-year institution. Obviously, you’ll do all the regular college search “stuff.” What colleges offer your program of study? What colleges are the size and location you like? You’ll need to call their admissions office and inquire about transfer admission requirements. They will likely share an average or minimum GPA required and a list of prerequisite courses you’ll have to have completed.

RELATED: SCVJourney – Start Your College Search Online

Most (but not all) colleges will be flexible in their application deadlines (all of which have likely passed) for students whose institution has just closed up shop. I’m not saying they will make exceptions on their enrollment criteria – if you weren’t competitive for transfer admission before this all went down then you likely aren’t now either. But with any luck, most of your work will transfer for credit in your program and you’ll be back on track. Sometimes all the courses won’t transfer and you’ll find that you might be a semester or so behind. Don’t get discouraged, just work closely with your academic advisor at your new institution to get back on track as quickly as possible.


Lastly, sometimes people worry about getting their transcripts from a college that no longer exists. Generally one of three things will happen. If the college reinvents itself as another institution then sometimes they will just transfer ownership of those records to the “new” college. If not, sometimes the college will work out an agreement for those records to be transferred to another (often nearby) college. In other cases, the state department of high education (or equivalent) will be in possession of the records or at least know how to tell you where to obtain your record. Bottom line – contact your state higher education authority for direction if you can no longer contact your ex-college.

If your biggest concern is whether your classes will be online or in-person, consider yourself fortunate. It’s obviously not ideal to be in such limbo, but it could be worse. And if you are one of the unlucky ones who may be bracing for a closure of your institution, just know that it shouldn’t be the end of your college journey. Just take a breath, do a little research, and then take that next step to get back on track. What else are you going to do right now anyway? We can’t leave our houses!

Visit our special coronavirus article page.

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