Helping Your Student Pick a College After the Pandemic

high school graduate wearing a mask

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If your child is in high school, you're likely aware that trying to choose the right college following a global pandemic is not an easy task. The university landscape looks quite a bit different than it did before COVID-19, due to substantial changes at schools forced to deal with the virus's impact on college students and staff.

As a result, some students are questioning whether it makes sense to stay close to home, take a gap year, or take classes online or at a small community college where they can get their general requirements out of the way for a lower price. Others are holding out for the on-campus experience they've been dreaming about since high school.

As your child narrows down their college choices, you may be wondering if you should consider any specific factors related to COVID-19. Here are seven things you can do to make your decision a little easier despite the challenges—and changes—brought about by the pandemic.

Consider All Options

We are living in unprecedented times in nearly every way imaginable. Life as we know it has changed drastically as a result of the pandemic, and nowhere have the changes been greater than in the education system.

As a result, you and your student may want to consider some unconventional choices when it comes to college. For instance, your student could decide to enroll at a local community college to get their general education requirements out of the way before transferring to a four-year university.

And while online classes may not have been something your child would have considered before the pandemic, they may be more interested in that option after experiencing distance learning when schools were shut down due to COVID.

Thanks to the pandemic, more colleges than ever before are offering a variety of online courses. If your child has their heart set on a certain school, check out the online options to see if they can get any core classes out of the way before attending class on campus.

Online classes be a less expensive option, as well as providing the opportunity to gain credit without the health concerns of living and going to class on a crowded campus.

Some students may choose to take 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 from school. It gives a student time to mature as well as explore who they are and what they want to do.

Research Top Choices

If your student really wants to go the traditional in-person route, or if they are offered a scholarship that won't be available later if they take a gap year, you can start by researching your student's top universities.

Begin by looking through the school's website with your student. Encourage them to take a virtual tour of the campus and read about the major (or the top two or three choices) they want to pursue.

Next, have them search the internet for news and information about the university. They can also get on community forums and student social media pages to see what others have to say, keeping in mind that they might find more bad 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 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.

Visit the Campus

Once you have decided on a few universities, it can be helpful for your student to see what the campus looks like. Seeing the layout of the university can help your student get a feel for what it would be like to attend classes there.

Contact the university to set up a tour if possible, and see if they can tailor the tour to areas that your child is particularly interested in. Keep in mind that some schools may be keeping group sizes small, so call early to reserve a spot for you and your child.

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 only what's highlighted in professional photographs and videos.

Look at the College's Approach to COVID-19

One of the biggest deciding factors is how the university has handled its response to COVID-19. Do the decisions they have made fit with your expectations?

See if your student feels safe attending college there despite any current issues surrounding COVID-19. Find out what measures the school is taking to prevent the spread of the virus among students and staff.

Even though we're past the worst of the pandemic, many schools have implemented the following practices, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines:

  • Regular COVID testing
  • Implementing certain health measures in environments where not all students and staff are vaccinated
  • Offering COVID-19 vaccinations
  • Offering quarantine areas for students who get the illness
  • Requiring students to get vaccinated before registering for in-person classes and on-campus housing

President Biden has issued the COVID-19 College Vaccine Challenge as a way to increase the numbers of young people who are vaccinated on college campuses.

If you or your student are not comfortable with the COVID precautions in place at a school of their choice, consider what the college's online learning options are like. Is living on campus a priority for your student, or are they mainly concerned about the degree programs offered by the university? They may decide to study at home and attend online for at least part of their college experience.

Evaluate Academic Offerings

Obviously, academics are the most crucial part of the college decision. If the university doesn't offer the major your student is interested in, that one may need to be crossed off the list. But even if they do offer what your child 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 areas your child is hoping to become proficient in?

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

Discuss the Location

Attending college away from home can get complicated if the school is 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 they will feel safe.

Consider things like how far it is from home, the access they will have to outside resources, and the safety and security of the area. Also, 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. Take a look at how local authorities have managed the situation as well.

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 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.

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 is a challenging prospect in the best of times, and even more so when taking into account lasting changes brought about by the pandemic. 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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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guidance for institutions of higher education. Updated June 4, 2021.