Every aspect of our daily lives remains unknown as the pandemic forces us to live in uncertain times, said Brennan Barnard of business news magazine Forbes. The unknown can range from when we can get our haircut to job loss or food insecurity. College-bound high school seniors (or even college students) are grappling with the struggles of deciding which school to attend and how they will pay for it. They are also considering the experiences they want to have as well as identifying which school would best match their goals, interests, finances, and future.
How is COVID-19 Affecting College Decisions?
Nitro College, which provides individuals with the resources they need to finance college, surveyed over 6,500 college-bound high school seniors and their parents about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting their college decisions. 23% of students and 32% of parents strongly agreed (versus 32% and 37% of those who answered somewhat agree) that the pandemic has affected their ability to pay for college in the fall of 2020.
Meanwhile, 10% of students and 5% of parents answered that they strongly disagree with the statement (versus 10% and 5% of those who answered somewhat disagree). 18% of students were unsure that the pandemic has affected their ability to pay for college, with the figure lower by one percentage point for parents (17%). 12% of students and parents strongly agreed that they have considered attending college closer to home due to the pandemic (versus 17% of those who answered somewhat agree).
52% of students and 51% of parents said they strongly disagree that they have considered going to a nearby college (versus 19% and 20% of those who said somewhat disagree). 2% of students and parents strongly agreed that they have considered enrolling in an online-only school for fall 2020 due to college and university closures this spring (versus 9% and 11% of respondents who answered somewhat agree).
71% of students strongly disagreed with the statement while 67% of parents shared the same sentiment (versus 18% and 20% of respondents who said they somewhat disagree). When asked if they received any communication from colleges about the pandemic and its potential impact on the Fall 2020 semester, 51% of students and 30% of parents said yes. On the other hand, 70% of parents and 49% of students said they have not received information from colleges.
23% of students and 32% of parents strongly agreed that they are considering a delay in starting college in the Fall (versus 32% and 37% of those who answered somewhat agree). 10% of students and 5% of parents said they strongly disagreed with the statement (versus 15% and 9% of those who somewhat disagreed). 18% of students and 17% of parents were unsure that they are considering a delay in starting college.
What Will College Look Like During the Pandemic?
Most colleges and universities are still in “wait and see” mode about the fall semester and how it will look like at the campus. Thus far, the headlines contained opinions, conjectures, and statements of intent by various educational institutions. Harvard University, for instance, announced that it will reopen in the fall while considering the prospect of a virtual start in the school year. Cal State Fullerton already decided to hold classes online in the fall. Overall, students’ experience in most colleges post-pandemic will differ from those of past students.
How to Choose the Right College During the Pandemic
1. Adapt to Changes
Students should ask themselves if they prefer a larger or a smaller, more personal campus when choosing a school, recommended Blair Garland of The Bulletin, a daily newspaper in Bend, Oregon, US. Other questions they should consider are: Does the university have the academic and social programming that interests me? Can I see myself living in an urban environment or near the great outdoors?
Students can virtually explore their school’s campus by following their official social media accounts and student clubs that pique their interest. This is not the most ideal way of touring the campus, but compared to school websites, students should also utilize virtual open house events to help them find more information about the campus. Most educational institutions are scheduling one-on-one virtual meetings with admission counselors. Some even connect prospective students to professors in their field of interest.
2. Attend A School Closer to Home
No one knows how long social distancing or travel restrictions will be implemented, but people can expect these measures to relax or be lifted as the transmission decreases. Some students may struggle to move to a college to another state or city or return home during breaks. Some universities may begin the school year with remote learning and resuming face-to-face classes after the term begins. Hence, it may be more preferable for students to attend a local college where they will find it easier to navigate around social distancing and other measures.
3. Choose A School With Strong Student Support
It is important for students to choose a college or university that offers extra support (ex: personalized instruction from a professor), smoothing out concerns about financial aid, or seeking help from the student care team. Many schools have strong support resources, but students can also consider smaller campuses. It may be easier for students to navigate a smaller college’s system, enabling them to forge stronger personal connections between other students, faculty, and staff.
4. Compare Financial Aid Offers
Higher education is an investment, but students or families don’t have to pay the school’s full price, stated Kelly Ross and Josh Moody of US News, an American media company. Schools will send accepted students a financial aid award letter to inform them and their parents of the net cost. The letter will contain information about grants, loans, scholarships, and work-study options.
With the help of their parents, students can compare award letters from different schools and determine which one offers the best deal. Award letters usually show the cost of one-year enrollment, but Rob Durkle— associate vice president and dean of admission and financial aid at the University of Dayton in Ohio—recommended parents and students to reflect on the total four-year cost of each school. They can ask about increases in tuition and other fees over the last four years.
Choosing the right college or university during the pandemic can be tough. It is strongly recommended for parents and students to consider the total tuition fee for each school, including student experience, and extra support.