To College or Not To College

By: Danielle Wright

That is the question. And unfortunately for many high school juniors and seniors, the answer isn’t quite clear. With August right around the corner, big decisions are being pondered by institutions, incoming freshmen, and returning scholars. But without a crystal ball, no one can foresee what the fall semester (or the entire 2020-2021 school year for that matter) will bring.

Some things to consider

First, colleges and universities have decided to cancel onsite visits for incoming students, which usually plays a huge part in how they select the schools they want to attend. While many universities have set up virtual tours, it is not the same; thus making final selections dubious.

Also, for those schools looking to reopen in the fall, they may not be able to stay that way if Corona decides to emerge for another climatic performance. Many college professors (those over the age of 60) are amongst the most vulnerable population when it comes to the effects of the virus. Will they be enticed back into the classroom despite the potential health hazard?

This makes holding online classes a very real option, and most schools are preparing for this scenario, albeit putting off making a final decision as long as possible. This means that students who are looking to attend schools away from home may reconsider, possibly attending closer to home, if classes are going to be held remotely. Would the cost outweigh the benefit of attending their school of first choice? Some are even considering taking a gap year. However, with work options limited due to social distancing, an effective use of their time off may be limited.

Which leads to another concern.

Money! Even before COVID-19, the cost of college has risen considerably sharper than family income. According to the Princeton Review:

For college-bound students and their parents, a whopping 99% of families said financial aid would be necessary to pay for college and 87% said it was “extremely necessary,” according toThe Princeton Review. And while most schools are offering fee waivers for orientations and admissions applications, as well as extending the deadline for admissions and financial aid, this still does little to buffer the impact of tuition costs on the family purse during a pandemic sickened economy.

That being said, there are programs for your students to help cover some of the costs. Under the CARES Act, the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) provides $7 billion to colleges that are to be specifically designated for emergency financial aid. In order to qualify, students must be a citizen or an eligible noncitizen with a Social Security number and high-school diploma. However, be aware that students enrolled in exclusively online-only programs on March 13, 2020, are not included in this relief package. In addition, those students who demonstrate exceptional need can apply for the Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant, which provides additional monies, up to $4000 per student. While not all schools participate, you should check with your school’s financial aid office to determine availability. Have your child apply for these resources as soon as possible by completing their FASFA application, if you have not already done so.

What about the admissions process?

Because students are relegated to finishing their last few months of school online for the Spring 2020 semester, many will be issued a pass or fail grade versus a lettered one. This undoubtedly poses the question of how colleges will view their academic standing when it comes time to apply for admission. Not to mention that SAT and ACT testing dates have been canceled for the summer. Will they be able to test in time to submit their scores? Out of all the concerns outlined in this article, this one has the most silver of linings.

According to the majority of institutions surveyed, a pass or fail grading system will not prevent or have an adverse impact on your student’s admissions application. However, it may be a good idea to describe how your final grades were calculated. In addition, colleges will look at academic performance prior to the pandemic to determine college readiness, as well as personal statements and essays. And while SATs are postponed, colleges have no plans to forgo their requirements for the 2021 school year. They will, however, take into consideration the availability of testing and determine application requirements as developments are made. Check here for the next SAT and ACT testing dates.

Finally, for those who play sports, NCAA announced changes in the academic requirements for incoming Freshman during the 2020-21 school year. All in all, there are many things you and your student will have to contemplate before making a final decision on how to move forward with college. Just know that you are not the only ones being challenged by this new normal. COVID-19 is an equal opportunity oppressor and its nefarious effects are ongoing. However, admission advisors, counselors and professors are working diligently to make lemonade from spoiled lemons. You should too. Stay informed and encouraged, there is light at the end of this tunnel.

Other resources for you: College Admission Experts video Admission Counselors Cultivating Equity and Peace Today (ACCEPT) Weekly Updates

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