By: Belinda Gonzalez-Leon, Ed. D., MBA
Ph: (305) 494-9389
High school seniors are finishing school through Zoom, watching caravans of well-wishers drive by their homes, and participating in virtual graduation ceremonies for a bittersweet end of their high school years. What will Fall hold for these future college freshmen?
Most colleges plan to hold in person on campus classes, but it is only a plan. Universities are also planning to teach online courses if needed or for the possibility of switching back to virtual classes if there is a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the winter.
What is a future college student to do?
First, stay on top of alerts and announcements released by your college. Check their website, sign up for email alerts, connect to their social media, and get on their list for text notifications. Despite plans for the Fall, colleges are still speculating. Only a few have announced definitive plans to offer classes on campuses whereas others will stay online, and some have announced a plan to do both- a hybrid model. Stanford University announced that they may not open until January 2021. Several small colleges have announced they are closing permanently due to financial strains.
If your college is open for classes on campus in Fall, are you ready to attend? Are your parents worried about your safety in a classroom or dorm? Colleges are still determining the needed procedures to ensure students can sit in class; live in dorms; and participate in college activities while maintaining social distance, disinfected areas, and frequent hand washing.
If you or your family do not feel safe and you would prefer to wait another semester or even another year before you start, you need to speak to your school about your options. Ask about deferring admissions for a semester or a year. Ask what are the conditions that must be met for deferment. Ask what are the ramifications of a deferment. Deferrals are standard practice at colleges, and many are being flexible because of the pandemic, but you still want to make sure you get all the information. It is important to remember that you must ACCEPT your offer of admissions BEFORE you request a deferral.
If you are experiencing financial difficulties to pay for college, now is the time you need to ask for more assistance. Contact your financial aid advisor and tell them you need help with college expenses to start school. Each college has a different procedure- some will interview you over the phone; others have a form; and some colleges have a formal financial aid appeal procedure.
Be prepared to list all challenges you face in paying tuition (i.e. unemployment, medical expenses, decided to attend at the last minute, etc.,) and you may need to provide documents as evidence.
The CARES Act awarded colleges and universities federal dollars to help the school pay for COVID-19 related expenses, but 50% of that funding MUST be awarded to students as grants to help them pay for school.
Be prepared that you may start your first semester of college as an online student. Colleges do not necessarily consider Zoom an online course. They use software that posts documents to be read; requires questions to be answered; papers to be submitted; discussions through student posts; and allow for exams to take place in a controlled environment.
You need to meet all requirements of the course to pass. Being an online student means that you will be at home probably in your own bedroom, not a college dorm. If you are a hybrid student, most of your work will be done online but there will be in-person class time with your professor and fellow students. If you do not think you can flourish in an online environment, then consider deferment or attending a college that is offering on campuses courses- at least for your first semester.
There is also the option of taking a year off before starting college – a gap year. Normally, a gap year is for you to travel and find adventures that will allow you to mature and gain more knowledge for your eventual college studies. Under current travel restrictions, that would be difficult to do, but maybe travel to a different state for an internship? Local internships are available too! You could also find a job preferably related to your major.
Perhaps you could work on a non-profit project or put some time into the family business? If you have a good option of something to do while waiting a year to go to college, confirm that your school will allow it and discuss it with your family. Whatever you end up doing before starting school, document it. Your year experience could help you when you want to transfer to another school, qualify for a scholarship, or apply for graduate school.
The key word for this college year is flexibility. Be flexible for whatever the future holds. That applies to what college you decide to attend; the courses offered to you; and what your parents ask of you. This is a time where leaders, businesses, and schools are trying to digest ever changing information and make decisions that could be disrupted in a few weeks.
This is just one year of your life and you will have many more years of life, God willing. Soon we will have a better sense of normalcy and you can finish college and have your career and move forward. I promise.