If you’re planning to attend college in the fall, it’s likely that you still have some unanswered questions. With vaccinations on the increase and COVID-19 restrictions relaxing (but the virus still a threat) a lot of schools' plans are in flux.
Here are some questions you should be asking your school to make sure they —and you — are prepared.
1. Are they modifying semester/ break schedules?
Many schools started the fall 2020 semester early, so instruction could be completed by Thanksgiving. Other schools made other revisions to their schedules. You'll want to find out if they are continuing those plans for Fall 2021 or considering other alternatives.
You'll need to know your college's plan ASAP so you can prepare to give notice at your summer job, figure out vacation plans, and if needed, move to campus earlier than you anticipated.
2. Will classes be in-person, virtual, or hybrid?
Does “in-person” translate to business-as-usual? That is, does the school expect to offer a regular selection of courses and labs, and will they all be in-person with the usual number of students? Or does “in-person” mean fewer students per class? Or does it mean some classroom instruction mixed with some online instruction? And will any of these plans impact your ability to enroll in the courses you were hoping to take?
You can use the school's plan for last year as a guide, but many schools will be relaxing restrictions for gatherings, so you'll need to keep an eye out fo changes.
3. Will you need to be vaccinated?
There's no one answer: Many schools have already said they'll require students to provide proof of vaccination if they want to study or live on campus. (Exceptions can be made for medical reasons or students doing remote learning.) Others very specifically are not requiring you get a jab. Still others are encouraging students to get vaccinated. Some are even offering incentives ranging from free food to cash vouchers that can be applied to your tuition or room and board.
Check with your college to see what their requirements are. If the school requires them and you can't due to allergy or other medical issues, your doctor can provide the documentation the college will need. And if you just don't like the idea of getting the shot? Talk to your doctor about the pros and cons. They're in the best position to help you decide what's in your best interest.
4. Will everything be open?
As we saw last school year, an “open” campus may not be fully open. Some schools are continuing some restrictions such as making dining halls carryout only. (But with declining case rates and increasing vaccinations, some of these rules may be loosened between now and the fall.) Will your school's libraries, gyms, and lab facilities be open? Will all extra-curricular activities be available?
If, as September approaches it looks like some facilities will still be limited, think about how you might have to adjust your own plans. Can you bring a microwave and mini fridge to make up for limited food options? What portable gym equipment can you bring to do in-dorm workouts if the gym is closed and the weather's bad?
5. What's the dorm situation?
Last year, some schools reduced on-campus housing capacity. If your school did, will it continue that plan? If you're entering as a freshman or transfer student, you may want to talk to students who lived on campus the prior year to see what their experiences were like and if they have any advice for you.
6. How are they modifying last year's plans?
We're all used to the basics of Pandemic Life: Masks, sanitizer, etc. But as cases continue to drop, restrictions are easing. You'll want to find out what, if any, elements of the college's prior plan are changing. Where and when are masks required? Are they keeping hand sanitizer in public areas? Will classrooms and common spaces be cleaned more frequently or have other precautions such as plexiglass dividers? Has the school released information about ventilation in its buildings?
Expect more info as fall gets closer
Real talk: Schools are still getting their fall plans in place. Don't expect to find answers to all of these questions just yet. But as the fall semester gets closer, keep an eye out for specific information. Be sure to open all school emails. It's also a good idea to regularly check their social media accounts and website.
Remember, you are a paying customer and you're making a big investment to attend college. It's OK to ask questions and push back if you feel your school isn't providing enough information. In the meantime, start getting your own plans in place to stay healthy and enjoy your school year.
Carol Katarsky is a contributing writer for Nitro. She is an award-winning journalist with extensive experience writing about both finance and education. Her corporate and non-profit clients include AIG, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Project Management Institute. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband, son, and one cat more than she should. Read more by Carol Katarsky