With only a week to go before the traditional May 1st National College Decision Day, you may find yourself second-guessing your school choice — or possibly your decision to attend college in the fall at all. Nothing is normal during a pandemic.
How can you navigate one of the biggest decisions of your life when it’s impossible to know what life will look several months from now? Here are five things to think about.
1. Consider asking for an extension
Many colleges and universities have postponed the traditional May 1st deadline for enrollment acceptance to June 1st. (You can check on the status of most deadlines by using this tool.) If the colleges that you’re considering haven’t already moved the deadline, get in touch with the admissions office and ask for more time.
Colleges are very concerned about the potential for decreasing enrollment numbers in the fall. In most cases, they’ll be happy to grant you more time rather than have you decline enrollment. And, if a college won’t grant you an extension, it’s worth considering if the school is still one you’d like to attend.
2. Fall back on your research
It may not feel like it right now, but your future isn’t canceled. The fall may not look like you expected, but that doesn’t mean that your dream of going away to school is off the table. Campuses won't stay closed forever.
Think carefully about the reasons why you selected your school of choice. You probably did a lot of research about program offerings, campus life, activities, etc. Think about your future goals and what kind of learner you are. Do you feel that your priorities still align with the college? If so, carefully consider how you’ll feel later if you change your plans.
On the flipside, if your priorities have changed or you have new information to consider, then maybe it’s worth investigating other options. For example, if cost has become a more-important factor, you might want to consider enrolling in a community college or state school. Remember that most community colleges prioritize the ability to transfer credits, so starting your education locally can be a cost-effective alternative.
However, keep in mind that starting at a community college may mean forfeiting merit aid that you would’ve received all four years at another school. Be sure to carefully compare the total cost of attendance before you decide.
If you're concerned about tuition gaps, remember that private student loans can supplement any funding that's not covered by financial aid or savings. Check out our picks for the best deals on student loans here.
3. Actively seek out more information
If you have specific concerns about how certain types of classes may be handled in the event that the pandemic re-surges in the fall, it’s wise to get more details before you accept enrollment. Don’t be shy about getting in touch with specific academic departments to find out what kinds of plans are in the works. They may be able to alleviate your fears.
Or, alternatively, you may decide that you’re unhappy with the college’s plans and decide to consider a different school. The important thing is to ensure that you’re getting as much information as possible so you can feel more comfortable with your decision.
4. Re-evaluate merit- and need-based financial aid
If your family’s financial situation has changed, you should get in touch with your school’s financial aid department ASAP. In some cases, you may qualify for additional assistance.
See also: Could You Be Eligible for More Financial Aid Because of Coronavirus?
You may also be able to secure additional merit aid, which isn’t based on need, but on other factors that are determined by the college. Merit aid is usually distributed by the admissions department rather than the financial aid office. If a school believes that your potential enrollment is in jeopardy, they may be able to come up with additional funds.
5. Know the pros and cons of taking a gap year
If you’re considering delaying the start of college, be sure to check into the school’s requirements for holding your place for the following year. Some colleges require a written plan for what you intend to do with the time. Others may require you to re-apply.
It’s also important to be realistic about your goals and intentions for a gap year. If the pandemic re-surges, traveling or volunteering may be off the table. Taking the year to work and save money may present different challenges, considering current unemployment levels and a potentially flooded job market.
Remember that this, too, shall pass
There's no doubt that the Class of 2020 is facing challenges that previous classes couldn't have dreamed of. At this moment, the pandemic of 2020 is casting an unfair shadow on what should be a defining time in your lives. However, just remember that the current situation does not have to define your future. That's up to you. We're rooting for you.
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