How the COVID-19 Pandemic Will Impact High School Seniors

In our effort to bring you the latest, and most accurate college admissions information so your family can make better, more informed decisions, we are inviting experts in the field of higher ed to join us and discuss how COVID-19 will impact our students.

During our recent Facebook Live, higher-education expert Jeff Selingo and author-educator Michael Horn weighed in with helpful tips for both high schoolers and college students.

Here’s what they said:

The Ever-Changing Admissions Process

The novel virus has impacted the college admissions process in a variety of ways, and will continue to do so.

Both our experts feel that this essentially forces schools to be more flexible than in the past, as they consider the fate of their institutions–and your child and many others consider their futures.

“The schools, the colleges, right now are very nervous about who is actually going to show up and what they will be able to pay,” notes Horn.

As a result, your child is in a strong position to ask for help. Ultimately, schools want and need to fill their classes.

“You have an opportunity,” says Horn, “where right now you are the chooser rather than hoping you are chosen.”

 

Help Is Only a Call Away

College counselors want to talk to your student.

It’s the perfect time to schedule calls or virtual meetings to ask your most pressing questions.

They’re available to help your child make a decision about which school is the right fit

Selingo says that because everyone is impacted in some way by the virus, a counselor’s “level of understanding is higher than normal.”

In other words, they’re more receptive to your needs than ever before. So reach out and open a dialogue last with them.

AP Exams

As a result of the challenges presented by COVID-19, the tests for this school year have been changed.

The exams will now be administered online and shorter–45 minutes in length. For each subject, there will be two different testing dates.

The full exam schedule will be available by April 3 on the College Board site. 

The questions will be free response, as opposed to multiple choice. Strict guidelines to prevent cheating will be in place.

The exams will focus on what your child has learned through early March. 

Many students have inquired as to whether course credit will be awarded the same way for the new, shorter AP exams taken from home.

Selingo says that’s not likely to be the case, especially among the more highly selective colleges, and that there will probably be a lot more discussion about this over the next year at campuses across the country.

Keep in mind that not all schools require testing. As of April 1, 2020, these are the colleges that have recently changed to test-optional (some just for this school year):

  • Anderson University (Indiana)
  • Boston University
  • Case Western
  • Chestnut Hill College
  • Clarkson University
  • Concordia University (Texas)
  • Davidson College (3-year pilot)
  • Drury University
  • Indiana University (Bloomington)
  • Mansfield University of Pennsylvania
  • Neumann University (2.5 GPA)
  • Portland State University
  • Quincy University 
  • Scripps College
  • Shenandoah University
  • Trinity University (Texas, 3-year pilot)
  • Tufts University (3-year pilot)
  • University of the Cumberlands
  • University of Oregon
  • Western Michigan University
  • William Woods University

Deadlines

For now, National College Decision Day is set for May 1. This is the deadline for high school seniors to choose which college they will attend. Some schools are extending that to June 1. Check with individual colleges and universities for details.

Deposit deadlines at some schools are also changing to June 1. Check with individual colleges and universities to see what they’re doing. You can visit https://www.acceptgroup.org/ for a list of those schools that have moved to June 1.

In addition to testing, acceptance letters, and deposit dates moving, financial aid decisions will likely be delayed at some schools as well, so keep checking school websites for updates.

One of the biggest questions parents and students have is whether or not the school will be online or on campus in the fall. Right now, nobody is certain.

This is why pushing out dates for acceptance and deposits is critical. “We’ve moved from being closed for two weeks,” says Selingo, “to the rest of the spring, postponing curriculum.

Some institutes are already announcing summer classes are going online.” Selingo says announcements will likely come in late April or early May.

Even if you commit to a school, remember that there’s flexibility.

Our experts suggest that if your child makes a deposit, then asks if they can defer a semester or a year, be advised that they may lose the deposit and have to reapply.

Be sure to assess whether losing the deposit is something you can do. 

 

Getting to Know a School, Virtually

One thing is certain: The longer students are not allowed on campus, the more creative they’ll get about their options for choosing where and when to begin their higher education. 

While your child is doing research about a school, Michael Horn suggests that they make good use of social media (such as LinkedIn) to connect with people who’ve recently graduated from the colleges or universities they’re interested in attending.

Ask them real-life questions about their experience there. They can also reach out to students who’ve recently graduated from their own high school—and who are currently enrolled in those colleges or universities. Who better to tell you how a school has handled things during the crisis? This is especially helpful if your son or daughter decides to go to school away from home, and then learns classes will remain online.

Ask questions of the school and current students: Is this a school that can pull off, or has already pulled off, online learning well? 

Also, be sure to make use of the virtual tours on their websites, read their student publications, and follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. 

 

Majors and the Economy 

Nobody really knows how the pandemic will affect future careers, and the economy, long-term.

Michael Horn suggests that skills such as problem solving, communication, and collaboration will become more in demand.

Still, he says, your son or daughter shouldn’t “game the system,” but major in what excites them.

Jeff Selingo agrees: “There definitely are going to be shifts, we just don’t know where yet.”

The key, they both say, is to get experience in addition to schooling–take the opportunity to work on projects, in clubs, do internships, etc. It’s the best way for them to advance their skill set, and be more attractive to future employers.

 

More Things to Consider

As the impact of the virus continues to shake out at schools, and perhaps financially, at home, your child may want to consider some alternatives to the more traditional path of high school to college.

Those alternatives may include taking a gap year, or going to community college for the first two years of school, or perhaps attending a hybrid that allows for living on campus combined with online learning. 

A gap year can be a semester or an entire school year where you are not enrolled in a full-time higher-education program, but are working to gain experience in some other way.  

Deferment is when you delay starting college. Sometimes a school defers your application, and other times a student may request it.

Requesting deferment is not a guarantee you will get it, and the amount of time you can defer varies between schools.

If a school defers an application it means the school wants more information about the student, such as grades, etc., before deciding if they are accepted.

A school’s financial health will likely be affected by the pandemic.

Horn says that “colleges have a legal obligation to their students to be up front about it,” and that it’s less likely to be an issue this year than it might in the years that follow the pandemic.

Just be sure to do a double check on a school’s financial health. At many schools, financial information is available online.

The bigger issue, both Horn and Selingo agree, is whether the student’s financial aid package offered during their senior year in high school is going to be different in later years.

It’s possible that it will be reduced as a result of the losses from the pandemic, but only time will tell at this point. 

As for wait lists, Selingo believes they’ll be bigger and go on longer than normal, maybe even into July and August.

You can often find out from a school how many wait-listed students were accepted in previous years, though post-pandemic stats will likely change all that. 

One of the big questions on everyone’s mind is: What if this happens again? Talk to your teen about their comfort level in terms of being far from home if it does.

Do they want to be within driving distance, or will they be okay if they need to fly—or, even worse, if they aren’t allowed to fly?

The bottom line? Keep checking with us and college websites, and join our Facebook group Paying For College 101.

It’s a place where you can ask questions and share your thoughts with other, like-minded parents.

And here comes the hard part…be patient.

We’re all in this together, working through the issues that matter most to you, your child, and the community of higher-education professionals.

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Melissa T. Shultz

Melissa T. Shultz

Melissa T. Shultz is a writer, and the acquisitions editor for Jim Donovan Literary, an agency that represents book authors. She's written about health and parenting for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Reader's Digest, AARP’s The Girlfriend, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Next Avenue, NBC’s Today.com and many other publications. Her memoir/self-help book From Mom to Me Again: How I Survived My First Empty-Nest Year and Reinvented the Rest of My Life was published by Sourcebooks in 2016.
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