Preparing for Fall 2020

In the interest of having as much information as possible in the wake of COVID19, I put together this list of questions to ask the schools my son is interested in attending. 

Just as they are beginning to sort out and accept the grief of losing their senior year, new questions haunt the Class of 2020 and their parents – what do we do about next year? As May 1 approaches the class of 2020 should be busy buying merch from their future alma maters, scheduling summer orientation, meeting roommates, and getting ready to celebrate their next endeavor. Instead, while still wading through the grief of their lost high school experiences, these young people are about to confront the next difficult question – how will this impact their college plans? Many families, still processing an unknown economic impact of the pandemic have to navigate choosing schools or programs, making deposits, and securing housing, and they have to do it with a lack of information about how the situation may unfold both in the long and short term. Unfortunately, in many cases, the Class of 2020 does not have the luxury of taking a wait and see approach. Even where the deadlines have been extended, deposits are due (or have long been paid) and decisions have to be made. As a parent of a 2020 grad who has barely had 48 hours to celebrate his college acceptances, I have so many questions for prospective schools. As a professor at a small liberal arts college, I know that our colleges and universities are only in the early stages of designing the answers to these questions while also navigating today’s emergencies.

In the interest of having as much information as possible in the wake of COVID19, I put together this list of questions to ask the schools my son is interested in attending.

Emergency Preparedness and Response
We can learn a lot about a community by understanding how it responds to an emergency. As they talk with representatives of the schools, consider encouraging your student to ask these questions of admissions representatives, program directors, professors, and current students.

  • Can you still “sit in” on an online course in the program? If schools are having any live online course experiences using tools like Google Meets or Zoom, you may be able to attend just as you would have during a campus visit. If not, you may be able to get temporary guest access to a course in the school’s learning management system (e.g. Canvas, Blackboard) to see how the class is structured.
  • How would the representative rate the school’s and the program’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and to closures? What did it get right? Where could it have improved?
  • For current students: How have your remote classes been this term?

Ongoing Learning Delivery
As a general rule, in the 21st Century distance learning can be a robust part of the delivery of a curriculum even for students living on campus and seeking for a residential college experience. The key is to determine whether the community to which we are sending our children (and our money) is in a place to offer quality education using virtual and online tools if circumstances should require time away from campus in future terms. Get perspective from current representatives about the issue. You should understand not only whether your school is focused on returning to residential curriculum, but also what plans they have in place should future terms require emergency measures, as they no doubt may.

  • What is your school’s experience with delivering online learning? Prior to this spring did your program offer any online, blended, or flipped classes?
  • What support does your school provide faculty to develop courses using virtual or online tools?
  • What percentage of your program’s curriculum is taught by adjunct or part-time faculty? While working professionals often bring expertise to a school, they may not be in the same position or receive the same support as full time faculty to develop and adapt course experiences.
  • Do you think all or parts of this area of study can be delivered remotely? What does that look like for your school/program/course? My son wants to study acting, and while my initial reaction was to wonder how he could possibly learn any of that online, I really want to hear from the experts -the people delivering this education- about whether they can deliver parts of it without him in the same town, and I want to hear from them about it.

Deferral and Merit Aid
In the event your family is considering postponing plans for college in the fall, or even if you just want to have the information so that you are prepared to pivot if necessary, you should understand the school’s process for deferral. Here is an overview about the process for choosing to take a gap year, and the impact on federal aid, but every school will have different policies about whether, how, and when they consider and accept deferral requests. Those rules may vary by program as well, so be sure to confirm whether the rules still apply if your admission is to a specialized school or program.

  • What/where are your policies for deferring acceptance?
  • Will my student still receive the same merit aid if acceptance is deferred?
  • What is the timeline for deferral? Can acceptance be deferred any time before the start of the semester? Can you get a tuition refund if you defer after making a tuition payment?
  • Can you defer for only one semester and/or to the following academic year?
  • Does the deferral prohibit me from taking college courses elsewhere during the gap year? (Note: Schools generally do not allow students to defer if they intend to enroll elsewhere).

While many of the answers to these questions may be online on the schools’ websites, changes may be under consideration, so check in with an admission representative to confirm whether the policies may change.

Drop and Withdrawal Deadlines for AY 20-21
Every school has a drop and/or withdrawal schedule indicating the dates during a semester during which you can drop a course or courses and get full or partial tuition refunds. Students tend not to pay attention to these deadlines until they need them, because they do not go into classes planning to drop. For next year, I suggest families add these dates to their family calendars.

Whether to proceed as planned will be a personal decision for families that will no doubt depend on a variety of important considerations. Even while we plan to move forward as intended and hope for the experience we had always envisioned, having as much information as possible will allow us to be prepared and flexible.

One last suggestion – give the young adults in your house a hug before you give them this list of questions. They are processing so much change.