What Seniors Must Know Before They Make Their College Choice

By Elizabeth LaScala, PhD

Spring break is over and thanks to the COVID-19 crisis, you have had plenty of time to wait, wonder and worry about your college options for next fall. Now is the time to gather the final pieces of information you need to make smart decisions about your future.

Deadlines and Deposits. You probably know that hundreds of colleges nationwide have extended their usual May 1 deadline for students to accept an offer of admission for Fall 2020. Most of these have extended the date to June 1. The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has created a tool that compiles campus changes due to coronavirus outbreak. With information submitted by more than 900 colleges and universities, this easy to use tool includes changes to deposit and decision deadlines, virtual admission events, and more. After knowing how flexible and creative (or not) your preferred school is regarding deadlines, deposits and events, it is time to do a bit more information gathering.

Financial Aid. If the stock market fluctuations have left you reeling, and you feel you need more financial support, it is important to realize that this year the financial aid budgets of most colleges have not been deeply affected by the public health crisis. If you believe the market ups and downs, a job loss or other factor has changed the college you can afford, it is time to call the college’s financial aid office. If you have been admitted to college, that institution wants to do everything they can to make sure you can afford to attend. Even if your financial situation has not changed, and you have a generous scholarship offer from another school that is tempting you away, be sure to let your preferred college know about it. They may make a similar offer to be sure you attend. While there are few silver linings in the COVID-19 cloud, one is that you have far more negotiating power now than you did a couple of months ago. Remember, you will not know if you do not ask.

Consider transfer options.  
During tough financial times, like the 2008 recession, one of the options many students took advantage of was starting college at one school—one a little less expensive and closer to home—then transferring after a year or two to a preferred college, one where they would like to finish their degree. There are quite a few advantages to this option, including giving our country (and you and your family) time to stabilize following COVID-19, both in terms of health risks as well as economic recovery.

If you feel transferring could be right for you, get in touch with the school where you would hope to finish your degree. Keep in mind that while most colleges take transfer students, some do not. Highly selective private schools may have few transfer seats available because their student retention rates are very high, and many 4-year public universities have specific transfer path requirements that often involve at least two years of specific coursework at a community college. After learning if transferring to your preferred college is feasible, check out which classes to take at your initial college that are likely to count towards the degree you hope to earn from your finishing college. Do not be hesitant about asking these questions—colleges today must be nimble, flexible and obliging. If they put you off or otherwise cause you discomfort, they may not be the right college for you.

Do one more round of research. How is your preferred college handling the current coronavirus crisis? Follow the social media posts by the school you are considering. How your preferred college connects with their student body now will inform you about how they will relate to you when you are on their campus. Are they finding unique ways to celebrate the campus community during this time of physical distancing? The way schools manage things now can tell you a great deal about their values as an institution of higher education.

Virtual teaching. We must face the possibility that colleges may not open this fall. If your school must remain closed, how do they measure up in terms of innovative virtual teaching by faculty? Does the school have well developed online programs? How do you feel about distance learning? How do they plan to deliver the best education possible to students while their campuses are closed? Your chosen school must be ready to address these tough questions now. Just like you, the college admissions officers are homebound. They are not busy traveling around the country visiting high schools and making presentations. As a result, they have extra time to devote to you. Reach out and let them help you or let them refer you to a resource at the school that can answer your questions.

A final word: A big part of my professional work is to stay informed and to transfer that information not only to my clients but to the surrounding communities that have been so good to me over the many years I have been a college counselor. Thank you for the opportunity to serve others. Stay well, stay healthy and STAY HOME!