How Will COVID-19 Change My College Experience in Fall 2020?

“When you embrace the uncertain, life opens up unusual new paths. Seeds sown way back bloom as flowers, in ways one can never fathom.” ~Subroto Bagchi, Co-founder, Mindtree 

Sometimes circumstances beyond your control can put your life on a different path – one that you may not have considered before. This fall, for new and returning students, the “traditional” college experience will have changed drastically. Health and safety fears combined with the massive financial toll of the COVID-19 pandemic means that while schools continue to make plans for the fall, one fact remains: it will be different. A recent Forbes article highlighted some of what can be expected:

  • Ongoing COVID-19 testing will be required of students, faculty and staff.
  • Masks may be required along with strict social distancing measures.
  • Campuses may continue with hybrid or 100 percent remote classes.
  • On ground courses may be broken into smaller sections.
  • Student centers and other large spaces on campuses may be converted to class settings to allow students to maintain safe distances.
  • Sports teams will play without spectators, if they play at all, and large communal student life events will be nonexistent.

Public health safety concerns around the close quarters of dormitory living will also need to be addressed. It’s common knowledge that college dorms, like many communal living spaces, can be prime environments for illnesses like influenza and meningitis. COVID-19 presents a more dire threat since the virus is not yet fully understood and a vaccine is not yet available.

That “full college experience” is being stripped down to only the bare essentials. Students’ health, financial, and family situations may have changed drastically since the time they were accepted to college. How are all of these factors affecting their plans?

COVID-19 impact on college enrollment

The New York Times recently reported that many colleges and universities are bracing for the effect the pandemic will have on enrollment: current students deciding not to return and newly admitted students never enrolling to begin with. Preliminary results from a Simpson Scarborough survey indicate the pandemic is playing a role in college decisions. Of 573 high school seniors surveyed, for those who had not yet decided on a college, 40 percent said the pandemic was factoring into their final decision. Eleven percent of students who were planning to attend a four-year school were considering alternatives such as two-year or online programs.

With so much uncertainty for residential colleges and universities this fall, students and their families may need to ask some tough questions and consider other alternatives to their original plans.

Should I enroll closer to home and commute?

Extreme circumstances (like a global pandemic) can cause us to examine our lives and pare down to what is most important and truly needed in order to reach a goal. Football games and dorm living may have been part of your college plan, but if those things are no longer factored into your experience, think about the ultimate goal of your education: your degree. There are many ways to achieve that goal in a meaningful way.

  • Transfer: Keep your momentum moving forward and transfer to a school closer to home. Look for a school that will accept as many transfer credits as possible and is known as a school with a smooth transfer process.
  • Enroll in community college: You can get a strong start at community college. Take your general education requirements with plans to transfer and finish your degree. Some schools offer concurrent enrollment so you can get a head start on your bachelor’s degree while taking classes at community college.
  • Be a guest student: If you are undecided about going back to your original school or circumstances demand you take some time away, enrolling as a guest student can help you keep moving toward your degree.

Can I still afford to go away to school?

If your family’s financial situation has changed, going away may no longer be an option. There are still affordable pathways to a degree. A student who starts at community college and finishes at Walsh can save $30,000-60,000 over a traditional four-year public or private college or university. These tumultuous economic times are also not the best time to take on a large amount of student loan debt.

You may also just be feeling afraid to go away to school and live in a dorm. That’s okay. The world is a different place than it was a couple of months ago. Sometimes our life circumstances cause us to completely change course, even when we thought we were 100 percent sure of our previous plans.

Do I have to sacrifice quality?

Absolutely not! You can stay home, commute, or attend online and still earn your degree from a school with internationally and nationally ranked programs and renowned faculty.

This is an awful situation. In additional to health and financial tolls, almost overnight, students just like you have had many experiences they were looking forward to taken away. These are significant losses that demand to be felt.

But not everything is lost. This is an opportunity to dare to consider a different path to your ultimate goal, your degree. Think of this time as a living case study for your future. How will you react and adapt so you can continue to move toward the goals in front of you in the midst of significant challenges?

Now is your chance to find out.

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