College Admissions and Coronavirus: How Should You Make a Decision?

coronavirus college decision

High school seniors are currently sitting at home, wondering when it’s going to be “normal” again… just like the rest of us. The spread of the COVID-19 virus has stopped most day-to-day activity. And you’re not alone, students. College admissions offices are also completely unsure as to when and how “normal” will return. With some acceptances in hand, what should you do, as May 1 approaches, when you’re unsure of what college you want to go to and what that college will be doing come fall? How do you make a coronavirus college decision? Here’s some advice.

You’re Not Alone

First, be very aware that you are absolutely not alone in this time of fear and uncertainty of “what do I do next.” Your peers are the same, not only in your high school, but across the country and also at the college admissions offices too. Everything is being absorbed and changed daily.

And here’s a bit of advice from someone who worked in higher education: Colleges and universities don’t do anything quickly. They’re methodical and think long term. So pivoting quickly, like they’re being forced to do now, is scary for them and unprecedented.

Robert Zemsky is author of The College Stress Test, and a professor of higher education at the University of Pennsylvania and member of Whittier College’s Board of Trustees. He was quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Mar.25) about the future of college financial health, and he had this to say about how coronavirus will change this year’s class:

Everything is up in the air. This whole tradition of, you know, you get your letter of acceptance and you go to an accepted-applicant event — all of that is gone. The yield process is going to be very weird. Colleges are not going to know what to do with their wait lists, for example. So what will happen on just the admissions front is a massive moment of confusion and uncertainty.

Robert Zemsky, speaking to The Chronicle of Higher Education

With that in mind, what decisions should you make now? There’s some steps we think you should take.

If You Have Acceptances

We write a lot at SCV about using your gut as your guide for big decisions. This time is another gut moment. We believe to keep a sense of continuity and normalcy, you should accept an offer for the fall and put down a deposit… even if plans change between now and August or September. Yes, making a coronavirus college decision will be difficult, but having something positive on the calendar will do your brain good.

There may be some flexibility during the decision making though. While May 1 remains the big decision date for most schools, don’t be surprised if some give you until June 1 this year. Be on alert for any and all emails and mail from your acceptance universities. Some may stick hard and fast to the May 1 deadline (and as such so will their financial aid departments). Others may give you more time. They should be contacting you often about what they are doing and what they need from you.

If you’re unsure how to read financial aid offer letters, don’t forget your guidance counselors are available online and by phone to help. Those are crucial with any decision you make.

What if the university continues being online only into the fall? Or you change your mind and don’t want to go? You can defer your matriculation for another year, or lose your deposit. We think being out a deposit in the fall is worth your mental well-being now.

At any rate, making a decision, using virtual tours, online searches, social media reviews, and any other Internet-based review you can, will give you something concrete and exciting to look forward to. That, mentally, is important to have during this time. Life will indeed proceed.

Gap Year?

Our own Kelly Rawlings wrote about how a gap year might be something to consider during this time. A gap year could give you a college plan a little further off, and also provide some breathing room to do something else in the meantime.

Plan B or C

Just don’t know if moving away to college in a few months is best for you and your family right now? Maybe staying closer to home would be good. Community colleges provide a ton of educational options and online resources, and most of their classes will transfer to a four-year university. There are also plenty of online college courses. Look for them online during this at-home time.

Eventually, we will return to “normal,” even if that normal is new. Colleges and universities will welcome students to campus, and you may be one of them. Be mindful and flexible in your choices and plan at this point, and be ready to find and make a Plan B or C if necessary. Your coronavirus college decision will be memorable, no matter what.


Edited to add: This article from NPR has some great information as well. Check it out.


Visit our special coronavirus article page.

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