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How the Impacts of COVID-19 Should Influence a Student’s College Choice

This year’s graduates need to reimagine how they select a school

Published on: March 23, 2021

Happy young woman holding a letter reading good news about her college admission

This year’s senior class has earned straight A’s in a subject most never intended to take: patience. They’ve waited to sit for the SAT and ACT due to test center closures. They’ve waited for their high schools to reopen for in-person learning and they’ve waited a very long time for season four of “Stranger Things” to be released.

Now, the strangest college admissions season many of us who counsel high school students can recall is about to enter the home stretch. Over the next few weeks, most colleges will release their admissions decisions. As a result, many high school seniors and their families will be thrown into a different type of March madness. With their senior year of high school reimagined, students should consider these issues before making their final college decision.

Financial fitness and possible budget cuts

With 20 to 25 percent of America’s colleges predicted to go out of business, students should inquire about the financial fitness of their final college choices. Since many high schools had to cut scholastic content when they moved to online or hybrid learning, inquiring about how universities will address academic content gaps is also important. Likewise, colleges have been cutting academic departments and sports programs. Direct questions about the budget impact on all programming and majors are fair game.

Mental health support

Much has been written about COVID-19 and racism, which is most commonly referred to as America’s double pandemic, and this discussion must continue. However, we are really enduring a triple pandemic, and the third leg of this trifecta, mental health, is a particularly vital subject on college campuses. We do not know the long-term mental health effects of this pandemic, but we can surmise by the increased depression and anxiety rates in high school students that it will be significant. To address this, colleges should have well-articulated plans for supporting student wellness. As a senior, you are a consumer, so don’t be afraid to ask about a school’s plan to address mental health.

Access, equity and inclusion

Students also need to ask colleges about their access, equity and inclusion plans. This generation is well aware of the systemic racism in our educational system. Only a third of Americans over the age of 25 have a college education. Students from families who are in the top quartile for income are five times more likely to obtain a college degree. And the gender gap for Black students is wider than for any other racial group. The high school class of 2021 isn’t going to waste an opportunity by being nostalgic about past notions of college, a past that included far too few of them in the first place. Ask how a college will support you as a student, along with how it will support every student, with the aim of creating a level playing field so every attendee can become a successful college student.

Remember that many aspects of making a college decision remain the same. Ranking final college choices based on factors that include cost, size, student support, diversity and location is just as important now as it was in the past. Additionally, factors such as whether the college’s instructional style meets your learning style or if study abroad and internship opportunities are plentiful are equally as valuable now as they were for earlier generations of students.

This is not a typical year when it comes to college admissions. While as a high school senior you already earned an extra A in the subject of patience, you need to take that patience and not act in haste as those college acceptance letters ping into your inboxes. The pandemic has rewritten the way your senior year unfolded, but you will write your own future, one step at a time.

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