College application season has always come with its fair share of nerves and anticipation. This year, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is forcing college students to navigate an additional layer of anxiety and stress.
Potential campus closures and CDC on-campus guidelines that alter conventional campus life might raise financial, logistical and mental health challenges.
If you’re preparing for college admissions, here are five things that might look different this year.
1. You may have to make a hard decision without setting foot on campus
Although college admissions boards earnestly await their next cohort of potential students, many campuses have chosen to close in favor of online learning. For example, in March, the University of Washington was the first major university in the country to officially cancel in-person classes.
Its visitor’s center office remains closed indefinitely. Prospective students and their families can watch its two-minute virtual campus tour video, instead. Although virtual tours are a helpful resource, it’s not the same experience as being inside a campus setting and witnessing student body life stirring around you.
What you can do: Zoom burnout is real, but as social distancing guidelines continue, it’s the next best alternative to an in-person tour. Leveraging Zoom and other social media platforms can connect you with real students, giving you a better feel of the community and school you’re considering. Reach out to your top schools to learn more about the clubs and organizations it offers, or find informal college groups through social media to get the conversation started.
2. If your family is under financial stress, you may have to consider a different way to pay for school
The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 19.4 million people reported that they couldn’t work because of pandemic-related closures or lost business. If you were relying on tuition support from your parent(s), figuring out a “plan B” to fund the upcoming school year can be stressful.
What you can do: Double-down on applying to scholarships and grants. Resources such as Fastweb aggregate thousands of scholarships to help you find additional funding for school. Also, reach out to your school’s financial aid office to see if it offers emergency financial aid opportunities due to your household’s reduced income.
If you’re considering student loans, opt for federal ones first, because they tend to come with lower rates and protections like income-based repayment plans. As a last resort, private student loans can help you fill financial gaps. This option isn’t ideal because they can be pricier than federal loans, but you can refinance them to get better rates after graduating.
3. Seek out resources to reduce stress and feelings of loneliness
One of the benefits of living on-campus is the connections you make with roommates and other on-campus dwellers. However, as colleges implement distancing guidelines to reduce the spread of the virus, the social value of on-campus living won’t be what it once was.
For example, the University of California, San Diego, reduced the on-campus apartment occupancy and required dorm students to wear masks 24/7 during the first two weeks of their stay. Only after testing negative two weeks after move-in day were dorm students allowed to remove their masks in common areas, like the living room or kitchen.
On some campuses, like Stanford University, students may be restricted from visiting other residence halls and are only permitted to eat at the dining hall assigned to their residence hall.
What you can do: As the virus forces campuses to observe and adjust, students might feel overwhelmed regardless of whether they’re living at home or on campus. If you’re feeling stuck, unproductive or just plain frustrated with the way your college experience is shaping up, it’s always a good idea to seek professional advice. Whether looking for a private practice therapist or opting for services provided by the school, someone trained in mental health service may help you feel less lonely or isolated.
4. If you’re an athlete, fewer full-scholarships are being offered
Student-athletes who trained diligently to earn full-ride college scholarships might be concerned about how the pandemic will affect their scholarship and sports programs. Some schools, like those with Ivy League teams, have chosen to temporarily halt intercollegiate participation at least through the end of the fall 2020 semester.
What you can do: Since schools are implementing different policies when it comes to their athletics programs, it’s best to speak with your financial aid and athletics department to see how your particular situation is affected.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), for example, has directed schools and divisions to honor its scholarship commitments to their student-athletes, regardless of whether the programs are paused or if students choose to opt-out for their own safety.
For students who are still in the recruitment phase, expect virtual recruitment from college coaches. If the school is unwilling to provide a full scholarship, ask about alternative offers. With the uncertainty of the playing season, some schools are offering partial scholarships or options like “redshirting,” in which students are on-scholarship and can participate in practice but can’t compete in intercollegiate games.
5. Market your unique skills to the admissions board
Before COVID-19, admissions boards relied on GPAs, standardized test scores and extracurricular activities to help them understand students’ merits, aptitude, unique talents and overall fit for the student body. But many prospective college students weren’t able to take the SAT or ACT exams, or were given pass/fail grades in lieu of letter grades as school systems adjusted to the new norm. Similarly, students have been limited in their participation with group organizations, volunteering and other extracurriculars that typically make a college application shine.
What you can do: Admissions boards have asked student applicants to provide any and all documentation they can to illustrate their fit for the school. Gather accolades, examples of personal work and stellar recommendations. With the shift of academic metrics like test scores and grades, admissions boards will likely focus on other application details, like your personal essay.