high school seniors

High School Seniors: Making a College Decision in the Time of COVID-19

Spring of 2020 has been unprecedented. The impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has forced all of us to make changes in every aspect of our lives. Our high school seniors were quickly faced with gut-wrenching realities. In addition to the potential cancellation of things like prom and graduation, college campuses have closed. End of year testing has been changed. Their worlds are topsy turvy. (We’ve been keeping a running blog of the latest news that impacts them.)

In a normal year, our high school seniors would make their final decisions about college by May 1st. Things are, of course, different this spring. Here are several steps that for seniors to take to help prepare for the process ahead.

1) Check your email frequently!

Colleges are relying on email to communicate with you about what is going. Want the latest? Make sure you’ve read your email.

For current juniors, get on the email mailing list for colleges you might be interested in applying to in the fall. You’ll want to make sure you are getting the latest updates about next fall’s application season.

2) Most colleges are switching to online “admitted student” events.

Again, refer to that email to see if they have announced anything. Virtual events will not be the same as a live visit, but they could serve to get a lot of specific questions answered.

If a college does not have official virtual events scheduled, online virtual tours can be found everywhere. The college may have their own like this one from The Ohio State University. Some websites like www.YouVisit.com collate many different tours into one spot.

Along those lines, make sure you have a list of questions you need answered before you make their final decision. Writing these out and documenting the answers brings all the facts into an easy to tackle way. Go back to your original college criteria list. If you have it down to two or three schools, what are YOUR most important criteria that YOU have defined for your college experience?

3) Your decision deadline may be pushed back.

Some colleges have delayed that May 1st decision date—pushing it out to June 1st. A movement is afoot among college admission counselors to make this change at more institutions.

The NACAC, the National Association for College Admission Counseling, is keeping a running list of colleges with updates on whether or not they are hosting admission events and what the candidate reply deadline is. As of this writing, over 600 colleges had provided information. Another list trying to collate the extended deadlines can be found here.

4) Some factors in this decision aren’t concrete facts.

A student might make an extensive pros/cons list for each of their final favorite colleges. However, those facts might not be enough to help make the final decision. Sometimes students (and parents) can worry way too much about making a “perfect” choice. Remember, MANY different colleges can be the perfect one.

Have your student check out the college’s online student newspaper (if there is one). Scroll through social media feeds to get a feel for that school.

We found this tip, which we thought was very clever. Have your student pretend they have made their final college choice. Have them live the next 24 hours thinking about what that would feel like. How do they feel about posting on Snapchap or Instagram about their choice? What feelings do they have when they picture themselves on campus? Those emotional imagination can help them realize some preferences.

5) Phone (or Facetime or Skype) a friend.

And by friend, we mean find a current student at the college your student is thinking about attending. If OSU is on their list, find a current freshman at OSU to ask them about how they made their decision. What have they experienced so far? Any surprises both positive and negative that they didn’t expect? This kind of information probably won’t be included in any “admitted student” event. Bonus points for finding a student in the same major program you’re targeting!

6) Career-thinking and researching can be done now.

Hopefully, your student has a clear picture of their college major. (If not, high school seniors can still complete the Guided Self Assessment process. Currently, all our sessions are being held online, a practice we’ve used for years for our non-local clients.) Understanding that major is a huge driver in selecting a college. Which of your candidate colleges will offer you the support you need to learn the material in the major?

Students can use this time to explore careers tied that major online. Check out YouTube videos like “A Day in the Life of a Thoracic Surgeon” or “How to Become a Zookeeper.” Students can start their search with “a day in the life of…” or “how to become a…”

These videos may touch on the path someone took to achieve that role. They may share what a typical day looks like—both the good and the challenging. They may even get into how someone knew that career was right for them. For example, the thoracic surgeon mentioned that she was too aggressive to be a pediatrician, which was an early career path she was exploring.

Final thoughts…

At times like these, we find ourselves having to look at things creatively and explore ways to tackle our problems in a different way then we have in the past. On the college side, admissions officials are in the same predicament and will do all they can to help your student. Be sure to take advantage of their knowledge and desire to help.

High school seniors are in our daily thoughts. We know at this time they are faced with missing out on spending these last weeks with their friends and potentially other “life moments.” We’ll need to find new and creative ways to celebrate their milestones after this really, really unusual moment in time has passed!


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