If you’re planning to attend college in the fall, it’s likely that you still have some unanswered questions. Few schools have fully laid out their plans for how they’ll handle potential complications related to COVID-19.
Here are some questions you should be asking your school.
1. Are they modifying semester start/end dates?
Many schools are considering plans to start the semester early, with the goal of having instruction completed by Thanksgiving. Some are talking about modifying schedules in other ways, such as dividing the fall into two smaller sessions to reduce disruption if campuses need to close.
In any case, you'll need to know your college's plan ASAP so you can prepare to give notice at your summer job and figure out travel plans. You may need to move to campus earlier than you anticipated.
2. If the school is committing to in-person classes, what does that mean exactly?
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?
In any case, it’s important to know what you're signing up for, and what you’re paying for. If possible, you may want to adjust your schedule to save labs or practicums for later semesters.
3. What’s their emergency plan if things get bad?
A lot of schools had to close quickly with very little notice this past spring. The reality is that it could happen again, even for schools that are committed to staying open. For example, if the governor orders schools in your state to close, your college may not have a choice about keeping the campus operational.
So if that happens, what happens to YOU, the student? How will they keep you safe if you're in an area with high transmission? Will you get a refund on room and board if you can't stay on-campus for the entire semester? Will you get reduced tuition if classes move to an online model? Looking at how school handled the spring semester can give you some clues on what to expect if things follow a similar pattern in the fall.
4. What will be open and what will be closed?
“Open” campuses may not mean fully open. Some schools have already announced that dining halls will be carryout only. Will your school's libraries, gyms, and lab facilities be open? Will all extra-curricular activities be available?
Keep in mind that a sizable portion of you total college costs go toward fees to operate campus facilities and programs. Socializing, networking, and exploring interests through extra-curricular activities may be limited if the campus is operating under restrictions.
5. What is the dorm situation?
Dorm life is one of the most-anticipated aspects of the college experience. But with the looming risk of COVID, it may look different in the fall.
Some schools have floated the idea of reducing on-campus housing capacity. Is your school considering doing so? If they are, when will they let you know? Will they provide alternate housing for people who lose their housing assignments? If someone in your dorm becomes ill, what’s the plan to keep other students safe?
6. How are they preparing from a medical standpoint?
Will masks and hand sanitizer be provided to students? Will classrooms and common spaces be cleaned more frequently? Has the school considered whether buildings have proper ventilation to reduce the risk of airborne transmission?
Has your school expanded its infirmary services? Do they have procedures in place to safely treat and isolate potential COVID patients? Where is the nearest hospital and are they equipped to handle a surge of COVID cases?
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 safe and healthy in the fall.