College Search Considerations In a COVID-19 World
COVID-19 has upturned many lives. There’s no doubt this pandemic will affect decisions for college-bound juniors and senior. I raised a few questions, with answers to help. Please raise others. I will keep updating this post as I learn more, and will share more.
Are costs a major concern?
Do not go into a search with the expectation that schools will offer need-based or merit-based aid after receiving an acceptance. Look at schools that are as specific as possible (GPA, especially, and class rank for schools that rank) about merit aid. Many post their requirements online. Use the FAFSA 4caster or the College Board’s EFC Calculator to get a preliminary idea on how much your family might be expected to pay for college.
Do a budget that includes the costs that you already pay to help your child while s/he is in high school. These include allowance, health insurance, fashion, transportation, computer, and more. You will still cover these costs, definitely more for books, likely more for transportation.
Will your target and reach schools be more need aware?
The more selective large and mid-sized private research universities will take a huge financial hit this year. Endowments will likely lose value, graduate enrollments steeply drop. These schools rely heavily on international students to fill several graduate programs. They normally go to school full-time, and now they cannot.
Some schools will try to make up some of the loss by being more “need-aware” in undergraduate admissions. Those who rank lower in the applicant pool, and do not need financial aid, may have a better chance at being admitted.
Is college close to home always the best option?
It depends on where you live, your academic profile and how you can get to and from campus. More students may opt to commute for their first year in college and live with their families. But commuting in a COVID-19 world means pick-up/drop-off from home or a car. Check out the costs for a new or nearly new car and insurance on Carfax.com before you commit to commuting. Your car should be a model with proven reliability that can be supported by a local dealer when it requires servicing.
How will you get around, and come home, if you live on campus?
Some campuses are more navigable on foot than others. At Rutgers-New Brunswick campus bus rides are the norm. But at Penn State, UDel or a smaller school, you can walk practically anywhere. Some may feel safer at a school where they do not need to use public transportation. Others may prefer to have a car on campus.
Should you begin a residential college experience away from main campus?
Graduating seniors received offers from state universities–but they have been asked to begin their college education on a satellite campus close to home. Or they might be asked to begin their education abroad. We might even see online options become available. My advice: Consider only the straightforward offers you receive. Do you insist upon studying engineering, or anything else, on the main campus? Then go to a school where you are offered the opportunity.
Do your top schools offer academic flexibility?
Some schools may be more liberal with AP or IB credits than others in these times. Some might also allow you to take courses close to home during the summer. The most flexible schools will be universities like Penn State and Ohio State that have multiple locations as well as an online presence. Other schools, like Rutgers, offer an online winter session. Check to see if you can take courses at your local public college over the summer or online, and receive credits for them at any school that you ultimately choose. This might help you to graduate on time, possibly earlier.
What is the school’s experience with online education?
Some schools are going to adapt faster to online formats than others. Purdue, as one example, uses “flipped lectures.” Students listen to the lecture on their schedule, but turn in assignments as instructed. Ask the admissions staff how the college will handle this, especially when campuses are closed. You do not want to be forced to extend your time in college and pay more than you should. It is possible that we could see smaller schools collaborate to offer a better online experience. They might also collaborate with less expensive school.
If you are forced off campus, will you receive refunds for room and board? Will you also be asked to pay student fees for programs and services that you cannot use?
The schools that become known as difficult will become known through social media. But don’t look at that as be-all, end-all. Ask the admissions and financial aid offices the tough questions. Note the promptness and tone of their answers. You want to work with a college where you will be treated fairly in the most dire circumstances.
What will be your housing options freshman year, and going forward?
The colleges where most of the students live on campus have been at a greater disadvantage during COVID-19. Students have had to return home, if they could, or find temporary accommodations. Ffraternities and sororities have been impacted if their houses have more than ten residents. Check out options for the freshman year and the years after. Living on campus has its pitfalls when a pandemic closes a school. But living too far off-campus has its problems, too. If you do not have a car at school, and public transportation shuts down, you pay more for every ride.
How does the school handle health insurance?
Colleges typically require students to have their own health insurance. Some, like the University of California system, sell parents and students a policy. Review your policy. It should cover anything that could happen to your child away from home.
What are the school’s health care facilities?
Find out how students are treated in the event of injury or serious illness. A large school might have its own medical center. But it might not accommodate students for long hospital stays. Smaller schools should have relationships with area hospitals.
If you’re reading this, please maintain a dialogue with other parents, your school counselor, and me, if you like.. Share this information with anyone who is in, or about to be in, a college admissions cycle. All of us in this community—admissions officers, school counselors and independent advisors—want you to leave the COVID-19 world better off, ready for your journey to college.
Want to know more about me? Check out these podcasts!
Listen to my talk, College Is A Learning AND Living Community, hosted by Dr. Cynthia Colon from Destination YOUniversity on Voice of America Radio!
Listen to my talk, What Exactly Is a Good College? hosted by test-prep experts Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin on Tests And The Rest!