How to Help Your Student Pick a College During COVID-19

high school graduate wearing a mask


If your child is in high school, you are likely aware that trying to choose the right college in the midst of a global pandemic is not an easy task, especially with so much uncertainty about what is going to take place in the coming academic years.

As a result, some students are questioning whether or not it might make sense to stay close to home, take a gap year, or even attend a small community college where they can get their general education requirements out of the way for a much more reasonable price. Meanwhile, others are still holding out for the on-campus experience they have been dreaming about since the beginning of high school.

If your child is beginning to narrow down their college choices, this can be a nerve-wracking experience, especially with so many unknowns. Even if your student is set to graduate next spring, trying to navigate the college decision process without the typical options of campus visits and in-person meetings, can be challenging too. Here are seven things you can do to make your decision a little easier despite the challenges that COVID-19 brings.

Consider All Options

The time we are living in is unprecedented and unconventional. As a result, you and your student may want to make an unconventional decision when it comes to college. In other words, students have more options than they realize.

For instance, with so much uncertainty in the world right now, there is nothing wrong with taking a gap year to determine what direction they really want to go in. During their gap year, they could work, volunteer, or even start their own business. There is a lot of good that can come from taking a year off school. It gives a student time to mature as well as explore who they are and what they want to do.

Or, to save money, your student could decide to attend online classes at a local community college to get their general education requirements out of the way. Then, in a year or two they could transfer to the school of their dreams—and hopefully, by then COVID-19 will be better controlled.

Research Top Choices

If your student really wants to go the traditional route despite so many unknowns, or if they are offered a scholarship that won't be around in a year if they took a gap year, then you may want to start by researching your student's top universities.

Because colleges may not be offering on-campus tours or meetings, begin by pouring over the website with your student. Encourage them to take a virtual tour of the campus and read about the major they want to pursue.

Next, have them search the Internet for news and information about the university. You will be surprised at what they might find. They also should get on community forums and student social media pages to see what others have to say, keeping in mind that they might find more negative than good. People tend to complain online more than they give positive shout-outs.

You also can get a feel for the university by following all their social media accounts. Look for everything from admissions and athletics to math clubs and student activity groups. This will give your student a diverse picture of what campus life might be like. And, to help keep things straight in your mind, have your student start a spreadsheet with some pros and cons for each university. This resource will help them narrow down their choices.

Drive Through Campus

Once you have decided on a few universities, it might be helpful for your student to see what the campus looks like, assuming there are no travel restrictions in the area. Seeing the layout of the university can help your student get a feel for what it might be like to attend there at some point.

Clearly, if stay-at-home orders or restrictions at a school prevent you from doing this, or if you simply cannot afford a road trip, this is not a necessary part of the decision-making process. But, it can be helpful to actually see the campus as it truly is rather than what they want you to see in professional photographs and videos.

Look at How COVID-19 Was Handled

Of course, one of the biggest deciding factors at this point is to look at how the university has handled its response to COVID-19. Do the decisions they have made fit with your expectations?

Have they made a decision about whether or not to allow students back on campus or are they doing primarily online learning? Is the living on campus a priority to your student or are they mainly concerned about the degree that the university offers and are content to study at home?

You also might want to ask if your student feel safe attending college there despite the issues surrounding COVID-19. Could they follow all the requirements that the university has put in place like wearing a mask to class and social distancing even in the dorms? The answers to these questions will help you and your student narrow down your choices.

Evaluate Academic Offerings

Obviously, academics are the most crucial part of the college decision. If the university doesn't offer the major your student wants, then they probably should be crossed off the list. But, even if they offer what your student wants, not all programs are created equal.

Encourage your student to evaluate the course offerings and the degree requirements. Do they look interesting? Do they cover the things your student is hoping to learn?

You also might consider having your student email some of the professors that teach subjects in their major. They could even ask if they could call them to talk about what the university is like. Your student can glean a lot of information about what it will be like to study at the university based on their interactions with the professors.

Discuss the Location

Attending college during a global pandemic is a tricky situation, and it can get even more complicated if your student will be attending college in a location that has been overwhelmed by the coronavirus or is far from home. Consequently, you and your student need to evaluate whether or not the university is located in an area where your student will feel safe.

Consider things like how far it is from home, how much access they will have to outside resources, and the safety and security of the area. You also should consider how hard the area has been hit by COVID-19 and whether or not the numbers of cases are going down or continuing to rise. Also, look at how local authorities have managed the situation.

In the end, only you and your student will know what locations are the most desirable. For instance, some students want to attend a university that is located in a big city while others prefer a small college town.

Meanwhile, some want to be a good distance from home, and others would prefer a short commute home to see family and friends anytime they want. Interestingly, in light of the coronavirus, 25% of students surveyed by the ed-tech company Cirkled In say that location will impact their decision.

Compare Financial Aid and Scholarship Offers

If your student has already received financial aid packages or scholarship offers, it's important to evaluate and compare those. Look at the final costs on all the universities on your list. Sometimes it makes sense to go with the university that is the least expensive.

Other times, it might make more sense to pay a little more if the major and the atmosphere are a good fit. Ultimately, you have to make sure that you make a decision that makes sense for your family without putting you or your student in over your heads financially, especially if you have suffered a job loss during the pandemic.

A Word From Verywell

Making a decision about college when you are surrounded by so much uncertainty, is a challenging prospect. But with research and open communication, you and your student can make a decision that meets their needs and puts your mind at ease.

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