Put yourself in the shoes of a graduating high school senior. 2020 was supposed to be filled with the best “lasts” and “firsts.” Getting ready for your last prom as your family gathers at the house to reminisce embarrassing stories from your childhood and watch you get glammed up or get fresh and ready for a night out with friends. Your last day of high school getting your yearbook signed, walking the halls one last time, and unsuccessfully holding back tears as you respond to every farewell and well wish from teachers and friends. As the band ceremoniously plays “Pomp and Circumstance,” butterflies fill your stomach while you process to your seat looking for family in the crowd. The feeling of anticipation when your name is called by your high school principal and you get your five seconds of fame where all eyes are on you, diploma in hand. The excitement and nervousness of what awaits after graduation. 

For many the next phase of their life includes college and those feelings of nervousness, amid COVID-19, now turn into fear. Fear of the unknown. According to a COVID-19 Impact Research study performed by data science firm Civis Analytics, almost half of parents (particularly Black and Hispanic/Latinx) report a change in their child’s post-high school plan. Scrambling to find answers to myriad questions, students and their families consider every option. Will colleges be fully remote or return to normal? Is it worth it to pay tuition at a school where there’s a chance the college experience and resources won’t be accessible?  Is it really worth paying more for what could amount to teaching yourself at home? To be frank, the quality of teaching (I’m talking REAL teaching, not lecturing) at many institutions was sub-par prior to COVID-19 shutdowns, and with many unprepared to deliver engaging, rigorous virtual learning experiences, how exactly should students and their families decide what to do in the Fall? How should they proceed over the next few months? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Stay in Contact with Your College(s) of Interest – Many colleges have specific websites to provide COVID-19 updates. Students and families should check for updates daily. Also, it never hurts to contact offices and administrators directly via phone and/or email. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Many are being inundated with calls and emails and their inboxes are flooded, so don’t get frustrated. If you’re having trouble reaching someone (no response after two to three attempts and/or weeks), try including the department head or director in your correspondence. Don’t hesitate to ask ANY questions you have. 
  1. Keep Your Options Open – There’s no need to have to make a final decision now (although the clock is ticking). Although most colleges are beginning to communicate plans for what the Fall will look like, some with more certainty than others, we know circumstances change by the day. Right now it’s probably best to have a few options and add each to your FAFSA. Many are waiving enrollment deposits and fees, so you should also apply and begin completing enrollment steps (i.e. orientation registration, submitting immunizations records, completing required financial aid paperwork, etc.). If you’re considering housing, you’ll need to speed up your timeline for a decision as vacancies are filling fast. If you are experiencing financial hardships, communicate them with your institution and they may be able to make accommodations by waiving certain fees or placing them on the student’s fee bill to be covered by financial aid. 
  1. Do the Math- When considering a college experience that could be fully remote, is it worth it if the experience means being refined to sitting at a computer at home? There are some colleges who will grow immensely during this time and forever improve the quality of their in-person and virtual instruction, however, I fear that many will improve systems, but ultimately resort to the same style of teaching which leaves students confused and ultimately requires them to teach themselves. Being lectured to isn’t how people learn. If you’re going to be at home, it might as well be debt free or having to take out as few loans as possible. 
  1. Consider Deferment – Some colleges give students the option to defer their enrollment decision to January 2021. This could be an opportunity for a student to attend a more affordable college practically and then transfer to their intended school at the start of the next calendar year. 
  1. Establish Productive Habits and Routines – This won’t be a popular tip for the class of 2020, but many students of all classifications struggled with the transition to fully remote.  With no physical class to go to,  the urgency to complete assignments was almost nonexistent. With stay-at-home orders in full effect, the lines between class and leisure time became blurred. Establishing productive habits and routines will help immensely whether colleges are in-person, fully remote, or a hybrid version of the two. Start by dedicating specific times of the day for academic activities –  reading a book, researching your intended career, or completing scholarships (I suggest doing all three). As much as you can, designate times of the day when you’re “in class” and “doing homework.” Set deadlines with incentives and consequences to help hold yourself more accountable.  Now’s the best time to see which systems do and don’t work and what does and doesn’t motivate you. Mindset is half the battle. 

At some point, students and families will have to make final decisions about college, especially if those decisions include on-campus housing. There’s no way to predict what will happen. We can only anticipate the best and worst-case scenarios. I feel for every family of a 2020 graduate right now. Although there’s nothing that can be done to get back lost moments from this year, there’s solace in knowing you aren’t experiencing it alone. On the bright side,  technology like FaceTime, Houseparty, and dozens of other virtually engaging apps are being used more than ever to interact with those we love. Take this time to continue to stay connected to your family, teachers, and friends. We’re all rooting for you!

Frederick J. Johnson IV is native of New Orleans, LA, and earned his Bachelor of Science in Secondary Education and Master of Higher Education Administration degrees from the University of New Orleans. He's served as a high school science teacher and currently works as a Manager of College Completion with the mission of getting students to and through college.


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