A Letter To College Students During This Pandemic

Dear Students,

This is anything but a normal year for you. Some of you may have graduated this spring, transferred to other colleges, or in your first year. I truly feel for you. Experiencing a health crisis is tough enough but this economic downturn will have major repercussions. If this is your graduation year, it could mean the loss of summer internships. Also, there may be uncertainty about job offers you accepted to begin your careers in the Fall. If you are returning to your campuses, it likely will remain difficult with social distancing a requirement.

As a professor, I am experiencing a disruption to our academic term. My college students are from a diverse community college in an urban setting. Their communities are among the most severely impacted by the pandemic. Most work while attending school. Many are first responders or working in essential roles as healthcare workers while taking care of family members. While this letter is for them, I am writing to all college students.

A Changing Landscape

Every student in college has been impacted. Feeling a sense of loss akin to grief would be totally normal. One day you are at school with an essential structure, mixing your social and academic lives in a healthy blend. Virtually the next day you are home, remotely learning and with your parents. This abrupt ending to that structure is unsettling.

Freshmen were just getting comfortable adjusting to dorm life when they were rushed home. On the other hand, seniors should have been experiencing a rush of excitement and nervousness about entering the real world. Now that landscape, which was looking so promising, has changed overnight. The class of 2019 enjoyed the best job market since 2007. More than half of the class of 2007 college grads had job offers by the time of graduation. Your world may now look more like the classes of 2008 and 2009 who were most affected by the Great Recession. Fewer than one fifth of graduating seniors in 2009 had job offers.

Economic Downturn is Here

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics in July 2009 when the overall US unemployment was 9.4%, those who were 20-24 years were experiencing 15.3% unemployment.

Related Post: Why Employment Matters?

One question that may be on your mind is whether the pandemic will create generational pressure on your class as GenZers similar to that of Millennials. Many studies have shown that Millennials, born in the 1980s, struggled out of the college gate. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis did a study entitled, “A Lost Generation.” That report found that wealth in 2016 of a median family headed by someone born in the 1980s remained 34% below expectations based on earlier generations at the same age.

Recessions tend to be hardest on those entering the job market with a college degree in hand but not a lot of work experience. My own teens are not yet in college but I can imagine what parents are thinking. Every parent wants their children to do better than they did. They want their children to be happy, healthy, fulfilled and have enough wealth to be financially comfortable.

Related Post: How To Prepare For A Coronavirus-Related Recession

Ominous Forecasts Near-Term

Hearing economic forecasts of 30%+  unemployment rates in the near term with GDP contractions of 34% in the second quarter 2020 definitely sounds ominous. However, many economists are looking for improvements as early as 3Q2020. It is too early to tell with coronavirus still raging on though some say the devastating number of people affected is peaking. That means there will soon be a gradual move to more fully open the economy. Meanwhile, to stimulate the economy, the Fed has taken far more aggressive action earlier than in the previous recession. Simultaneously, the US Treasury is serving its role by rolling out large stimulus packages with more financial help on the way.

The Care Act Will Provide Some Relief

If you are carrying student loans there may be some good news for you. A major part of the $ 2.2 Trillion CARE Act is devoted to easing the student loan payments you owe from its effective date of March 13, 2020, until September 30, 2020. While temporary, Congress may keep some of these beneficial provisions longer or even made permanent. Among its major provisions are:

  • Suspension of involuntary collections of student loan debt, including wage and social security garnishments and tax refund offsets.
  • Federal loans will suspend payments automatically on Direct loans and Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL) which account for 88% of federal loans.
  • No interest will accrue during the six month period. Paused payments will count toward requirements for Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)  programs and income-driven repayment plans.
  • There will be no impact to your credit report as suspended payments will be reported by the US Department of Education to the national credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) as if they were on-time payments.
  • Expands IRS tax code section 127 to allow employers to reimburse up to $5,250 for most student loan payments which can be excluded from taxable income. SHRM says 8% of US organizations offer this terrific employee perk. More companies may jump on this bandwagon to help employees with these payments in the future.

These changes are automatic. This means you do not have to contact your student loan servicer. That said, if you are unsure, I think it is a good idea to inquire if your loan is covered.

What Loans Are Not Included In The Care Act

Some federal loans (about 12% of those) do not qualify for relief under the CARE Act. Excluded loans are Perkins Loans and FFEL loans held by commercial lenders. Private loans also are not part of the CARE Act. In any case, contact your private loan servicer to learn about their respective plans to ease payments during this time.

Positives That May Come Out Of This Disruption


1. Remote Learning And Flexible Work Options

You may have been rushed into distance learning without ever having taken a class online. Remote learning will only increase in the future. View your experience as being “thrown out of the frying pan into the fire.” As a result of the virus, the majority of college students are engaged in distance learning. Stay in contact with your professors, college advisors and, of course, your college friends. Counseling programs are available through your school remotely.

Remote learning is not perfect. There was little time for all of us to prepare. However, participation for online courses provides you with another skil lset. Many employees are now working from home so your experience with remote learning will be helpful. Expect that trend to continue as employers create more remote work options when things get back to normal.

2. Possible Stimulus Check

For students who are independent–like many who go to graduate school or are older–you may be entitled to a stimulus check. Being independent means that your parents are not claiming you as a dependent for tax purposes. Depending on your status, whether individual, married with or without children, the one time amount ranges from $1,200-$2,400 if you (and spouse) earn an income of $75,000-$150,000 plus $500 per child.

Separately, check with your college financial aid office if you are experiencing some financial difficulties. You may have stayed on campus for work opportunities if you were unable to get home. Also, if you are home, you may be in need of a computer and an internet connection. Ask about resources that may be available to you. You may be entitled to refunds for room, board, meals and other services. That refund can be used for next year unless you need emergency money for now.

3. Use This Time To Plan For Your Career

Get your resume up to date and don’t worry about work gaps or internships that were cancelled. Everyone knows the reason why you may not be working this summer. Motivate yourself to use this time to be ready when the job market improves. The worst thing you can do is sulk and feel sorry for yourself. Of course you feel sad but lift up your spirits. You are young, capable and smart. Combining those traits with a good attitude will be an important part of your future value. Make time to work on your Linkedin profile so you can stay connected and for networking.

Take any and every possible remote interview that may come your way whether it is for future internships, part-time work or a job in your career. Recruiters should be sympathetic to your plight given their own experiences during the Great Recession.

4. Do Know Your Major? If Not, Some Suggestions

If you are a first year college student, have you settled on a major? Times like these sometimes result in directional changes. I went to law school post September 11th after years of being on Wall Street. If you are undecided on your major, consider  STEM and business, both of which ranked high on these 2019 lists of best majors for lowest unemployment or highest paying majors. 

Better yet, you may be inspired by those who have been on the frontlines. Here are 6 occupations that are in demand now as part of this pandemic. The coronavirus will be hopefully under control. However, there will be growing calls for these professionals such as epidemiogists, laboratorians, registered nurses, behavioral health professionals, environmental health experts and Biostatisticians.

5. Jobs Will Be Created That Do Not Yet Exist

True, the job market may be a difficult place for the near term for those graduating this year. Think carefully about alternative options. Public service programs provided attractive employment opportunities after the last recession. If you can’t find a job, consider volunteering in an area of interest where you can learn and have worthwhile experience. Consider going to graduate or professional school directly after college if you are set on law, medicine, business, engineering or other professions.

This is a time to be as flexible as possible. You may have had your heart set on working in Silicon Valley, for Apple, Facebook, Google or other tech companies working on cutting edge technologies like artificial intelligence. That still may happen. Why not go on their respective websites and learn about what they are doing, especially to combat COVID-19 either individually or as partners? For example, Apple and Google are working together to build contact-tracing into their operating systems to contain the pandemic. There are many gaps that will create jobs  that do not exist today.

6. Life Lessons For GenZers

We are all learning life lessons about this once-in-a-lifetime experience. However, you are young and therefore more pliable than most generations currently in the workplace. Generation Z has some defining characteristics that are essential for the workplace. As the only generation that can truly be called digital natives, you are always connected, comfortable with newer technology and social media. A piece of advice, however. Put down your phones and make eye contact more.

You may welcome some of the societal changes coming as a result of this pandemic. It is well known that you like to work independently or collaboratively, and openly in work areas. Your generation is diverse and was raised with inclusivity. That can be helpful in an environment that wants to reduce income inequality.

Final Thoughts

In closing this letter to you, I know this is a painful time. You can’t change the circumstances. No one saw this pandemic coming as quickly as it did. Your future may seem a bit cloudy at the moment. Control what you can rather than focus on the negatives. Many experts are working on the health and economic crisis. Let them do their job while you do yours to the best of your ability. Be positive, be proactive and be flexible. Most of all, stay healthy!


Your Professor

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