Parents and Students: The Coronavirus Has Changed Our College Decisions

Parents and Students: The Coronavirus Has Changed Our College Decisions

If you’re a high school student preparing for college, or the parent of one, you’ve probably already begun to realize that this pandemic and the uncertainties it’s created have thrown a lot of things about college selections up in the air (or possibly even out the window).

With no way of knowing how long this pandemic and the changes to normal life it has created will last, it’s become altogether more difficult to predict how it will affect the coming year for new college students.

We’re only a few weeks into the COVID-19 situation, and even more briefly into isolation and quarantines.

In the weeks and months ahead, how much will daily life and major life decisions have to change to fit this current national climate?

And how much is the existence of the coronavirus already affecting parents and students as they plan for future college choices?

We talked to some of the parents in our Paying For College 101 Facebook group to find out how they and their students would answer these questions.

 

Parents, High School Students, and COVID-19

Have parent feelings about colleges changed?

With all that’s going on, do parents have less motivation to send their kids to school (or more fear about it)?

Or does it seem more important now than ever? Are their factors for which schools they prefer changing?

Here are a few perspectives:

  • Some parents wish they could redo the FAFSA. In light of the recent economic results of the pandemic, some parents are now out of hours, laid off, or have lost major stock investments, 529s, savings, and other assets. This means that any FAFSA information they sent in previous months could now be an inaccurate reflection of their ability to afford education. In some cases, without additional support or grants this could mean that a student who previously could afford school with parent support may not be able to any longer. 
  • Parents are learning from the recent experiences of their older students. For those parents who have one student in high school and others in college already, the Coronavirus experience has taught them how they want to choose schools going forward. One mom says they’ll be reconsidering any far away schools now after the massive challenges of getting their freshman student and all of his belongings home on short notice when the pandemic became serious and the semester was cut short.
  • Application components are up in the air. For both students and parents, the understanding of criteria that will determine the acceptance or rejection for a school is now a gray area. This comes down to so many things being uncertain right now: Will the SATs/ACTs happen as normal? Will AP tests continue? Will students be graded normally for the semester, despite it transitioning to virtual classes? Subsequently, applying students are also wondering what things will be important on applications now; for instance, if essays or interviews will rise to more importance in place of scores and grades.
  • Parents of higher risk students are particularly worried. One mom, whose son has other conditions, putting him in the higher risk category, is taking these concerns even more seriously. Her son’s choices have been whittled down to those nearby or with safety nets of family nearby.

Have student feelings about colleges changed?

Unique from parent perspectives, the students’ opinions are even more important when it comes to college decisions.

Are students now more or less interested in starting college this fall?

Are they using different factors to make their decisions.

For some of them, the answer is yes.

Here are some things students are considering and going through right now:

  • Colleges are proving themselves while handling this crisis. More than one student has mentioned comparing schools by their manner of handling the pandemic situation. Students who have been torn between several schools are instinctively leaning toward the one that has remained cool, calm, and communicative in the past weeks. Schools who are direct with students, maintain frequent communication, and even offer partial refunds or student assistance are going to come out of this looking much better than the ones that delay safety measures, don’t respond to questions, and avoid being honest with students.
  • The decisions just became more difficult. For many reasons, but one being college visits. These are typically integral to a decision, and for the time being, they’re not even possible. Students I spoke to mentioned obsessively watching campus tour videos in the hopes of trying to get a feel for a school without ever getting to see it. Making a decision that lasts years and costs thousands feels a lot more pressured when you can’t even be sure you’re making the right choice. It’s likely that for some students, all of these factors will mean they opt to take a year off and not start college this year.
  • College affordability is up in the air. With so many factors in play, it’s really impossible to know how schools will react long-term. But with many people’s finances taking a hit, the hope is that schools lower or at least freeze tuition to make it manageable. What may happen instead is that colleges will react to losing money from refunds this year, lack of international students, and other factors and increase tuition, making themselves less of an option for students with lower income backgrounds. 

Is distance from home a bigger factor now?

In some cases, yes.

For those who have already chosen a school, I heard more than once that they were glad their student chose a school within a fairly close driving distance.

It’s become an extra bit of reassurance that if pandemic problems persist, their student will be close enough to drive right home and not be stuck without a flight to get back. 

For those who have yet to decide, some are putting more priority on distance from home.

One parent said they’re reconsidering any colleges that are flying distance only, and are even considering transferring their older student to a college that’s less than a twelve-hour drive away (their current situation), for fear that any issues arising or ongoing would make it hard for him to come home.

And from a student perspective, the same concerns are also hitting home. One student, who had already selected the closer to home option between two she was considering, is relieved.

With all that’s going on, she wouldn’t have wanted to end up farther away than would be convenient.

Her second choice was also out of state, and she would have been upset to end up shelling out so much extra for out-of-state tuition, just to attend virtual classes indefinitely.  

Will people be preparing for college any differently?

Again, the general consensus is yes, though to less extremes.

More cautious parents than ever before will be stocking up their new freshmen with cleaning wipes, sanitizer, and face masks among the other standard dorm room essentials.

High-quality, high-speed laptops and internet may be more of a priority with those who think classes will end up continuing to be online well into the future. 

So whether or not it seems overly cautious to worry about all of these things, the fact of the matter is that every facet of applying for, deciding on, and attending colleges has shifted, within the span of a couple weeks.

And it’s all too likely that the coming days and weeks will bring with them new announcements about high school placement tests, grades, college admissions, and even tuition.

For now, the plans of 2020’s incoming freshman class are much more up in the air.

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Annie Burdick

Annie Burdick

Annie Burdick is a writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon, but transplanted from the Midwest. She also works as a community inclusion specialist for adults with disabilities. Previously she's edited and written for magazines, websites, books, and small businesses, on an absurdly wide range of topics. She spends the rest of her time reading, eating good food, and finding new adventures in the Pacific Northwest.
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