College Decisions in the Midst of COVID-19

Making the decision about where to attend college is never easy. There’s a lot riding on that choice. And sometimes, making the decision about whether to head to school right away or to take a gap year can be a tough choice as well. But this year, as we struggle our way through a pandemic, these decisions are harder than ever for many students.

If you and your student are grappling with these important decisions, it may feel as though you are working your way through a fog. You can’t see very far ahead. You may not be sure where you are at the moment. And you aren’t sure what others are doing. You feel alone and not a little lost as you try to find the right path.

What do people think?

As you try to think through your student’s options for fall semester, you may wonder what other parents and students are thinking.  What are your options? What way are others leaning?

Fortunately, several organizations have conducted surveys and studies to learn what parents and students are thinking. It may help you to know what others are considering.  (These statistics are compiled from 5 different studies conducted in April. In all, the studies surveyed over 10,000 students and parents.)

  • Primary concerns for most families include student safety, cost and finances, and the student’s inability to visit campus before making a final decision.
  • 75% of the families of seniors say they have been personally or financially impacted by COVID-19
  • 34% of families say that COVID-19 will impact their student’s decision about college.
  • 20% say they are likely not to attend in the fall.
  • 55% of families want their student to enroll in a school closer to home.
  • 37% of families are considering having their student to live home and commute to school.
  • 25% are encouraging their student to delay beginning college.
  • 53% of families are concerned about their ability to pay for college and will have to borrow more money.
  • 46% of parents are concerned about the college’s ability to respond to an emergency situation in the fall.
  • 50% of parents have health concerns for their child.
  • 25% of student said they may change their mind about where to attend or whether to attend before fall.
  • 63% of students are not sure they will attend their first choice of college because of either financial or family health reasons.
  • 40% of students are considering deferring or delaying the start of college for a semester or a year.
  • 80% of parents would like more communication from the college about fall plans.
  • 40% of parents would like to hear from the college weekly.
  • Those students whose plans are most affected are first generation and/or non-white

What factors should families keep in mind?

The choice of which school to attend and whether to attend this fall must be a personal one made by each student and each family. There are many factors to consider and absolutely no single answer. Parents and students need to begin now to think about options and talk about the factors that need to be considered.  Here are a few things to think about:

  • Although some students are comfortable with online learning, they may wait to begin if classes are online because the college experience is about so much more than classes. Students do not want to forfeit their freshman year experiences of meeting other students, living together, and participating in sports and other extracurricular campus experiences.
  • Some students will need to find out whether they can obtain additional financial aid due to changed family financial resources.
  • The anxiety of waiting to hear what their school is doing about classes or about plans for safely having students on campus is forcing some students to make a decision now rather than wait for weeks.
  • Unfortunately, some schools may need to reduce merit aid as their financial resources are challenged.
  • With new safety protocols on campuses, there may be less student work available to help with finances.
  • As some students make decisions to choose alternate colleges, students on a waiting list may have better chances of being admitted to their first choice school.
  • Some students are choosing to attend college closer to home so that they can commute to classes if they feel unsafe on campus.

What’s a student and family to do?

Again, there are no easy answers, but take time to consider some of the following:

  • If making a decision right now is difficult, contact the college to request an extension before making your deposit. Some schools may allow you extra time.
  • If your student is considering taking a gap year to wait out the virus, be sure to check with the college about whether or not they will grant a deferral. Some schools, concerned about filling their class, may not grant a deferral without another reason or without a plan in place. Don’t just assume that a college will hold a place for your student.
  • If your student is considering a gap year program, check to see whether the program will run. Some programs, like some schools, have had to cancel their plans.
  • If your student plans to defer admission and possibly take classes at a local school instead, check with the college. At some schools your student may need to reapply later as a transfer student.
  • Remember that concerns about COVID-19 may vary by region. Track the virus in the area where your student’s school is located.
  • If your student is on a waiting list, they should reach out to let the school know they are still interested. As some students opt to go elsewhere, this may be a good year for waiting list students.
  • Although it is frustrating not to know a school’s plans for the fall semester, remember that colleges are working hard to make plans without knowing where we will be in a few months. It is not that colleges aren’t sharing decisions they’ve made, they are still trying to determine what the health guidance will be by fall semester.
  • Communicate with the college if you have questions, need to appeal a financial aid award, or need to better understand policies. Begin a dialogue.
  • Consider staying the course. Consider fit as well as other concerns. Remember that college is a four year commitment. If the school seemed the right choice, don’t be too quick to change course now. One semester of online courses is only a small part of the whole college journey.

Everything is shifting. Things change weekly and daily. Colleges are trying to find solutions that will provide as much of the college experience as they safely can. Students have many factors to consider.  Everyone is nervous and concerned about the fall, but it is important not to panic. Think carefully about options. Talk a lot about reasons for potential decisions.

One additional statistic that came out of some of the studies mentioned above — nearly 2/3 of students and families feel optimistic about the future. Have a Plan B, but hold on to a positive outlook and hope for the future.

Related articles:

Should My Student Consider Deferring Enrollment for College?

Should My Student Consider Taking a Gap Year Before Starting College?

Podcast #011 – Should My Student Take a Gap Year Before College?

8 Reasons Why a Summer Class May Make Sense for Your Student This Year


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