Are you a high school senior or have one in your life? Are you wondering how life in the time of COVID may impact your plans after graduation? For students, it probably feels stressful enough to navigate the unexpected challenge of high school online. Knowing that the end of high school is only months away adds another layer of complexity to the situation.

Here are some of the questions and concerns from seniors:

1. Should I still plan to attend college in-person next fall?

Because we cannot predict the future, the best that we can do is consider the facts today. Oregon public and private colleges and universities are carefully following public health guidelines, resulting in big adjustments to college life.  You will find specific information about each college’s COVID response on the front page of their websites. Some adjustments include:

  • Many or most classes offered virtually
  • Students are living on-campus but with strict protocols regarding masks, distancing, COVID testing and gatherings for classes and extra-curricular activities.
  • Study abroad suspended.
  • Organized sports completely or partially suspended.
  • Asking students to restrict their mobility to reduce disease transmission. Many ask that students avoid going home on weekends and follow strict protocols for working and socializing off campus.

Things may completely change by next year, but it’s likely that at least some aspects of college life will be different than pre-COVID times. You will want to factor this into your decision-making.

2. What about financial aid?

If your plans include attending a community college or four-year college next fall, you need to fill out the FAFSA or the ORSAA (for undocumented or DACA students) form. It is available now and it is to your advantage to fill it out as soon as possible.  These applications use information you provide, including tax returns, to help colleges determine how much financial aid you qualify for. Since COVID has changed many people’s financial circumstances, your 2019 tax returns may not be an accurate depiction of your situation now. In that case, it is important to contact the financial aid offices of the colleges you apply to and request a special review of your circumstances.

3. Will the cost of attendance be the same if I do not attend in-person or live on campus classes?

Most colleges and universities are charging the same amount for classes, regardless of how they are taught: Online, in-person or a combination (hybrid).

If you do not live on-campus, you will not have to pay room and board. You will need to check on what fees will be charged. It can be difficult if you change your living arrangement mid-year because you may not receive a refund for on-campus housing or may not be able to get out of an off-campus housing lease.

There are many factors that seniors and their families are concerned about, some known and some unknown. It may require a bit of rethinking expectations, but a good strategy for coping may be to have more than one plan in mind…plans that the student can feel good about! 

Here are some options to consider:

  • Start college locally at CGCC — Work with your advisor to take courses that will transfer to your desired 4-year college and major.  Tuition is about half the cost as universities and you may qualify for the Oregon Promise grant that can cover community college tuition for up to 90 credits. You may also save on housing and travel.
  • Delay your start — Many colleges will allow you to accept their offer of admission and financial aid but delay your start for a term or even up to a year. Contact the admissions office for information about this.
  • Take time off and work — if done wisely, taking some time off can help you clarify your education and career goals BUT don’t let time off derail your goal of higher education! If you take this route, I recommend taking at least one class per term at CGCC. This will keep you academically sharp and focused on your ultimate goals.

We do not know how long it will be before college life returns to “normal” or if, in fact, it will always remain changed in some ways. For example, most colleges are not requiring that students take the SAT or ACT in order to apply and many are considering making this change permanent.

Colleges and universities know the value of in-person opportunities for learning and connection and are working hard to make this more widely available as soon as possible. However, their primary focus remains the health and safety of all.

Oregon State University’s Open Campus is available to offer support to students and their families surrounding this topic. Please contact Ann Harris at ann.harris@oregonstate.edu for more information.

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