Sudden financial hardships have upended the selection process for both universities admitting students and high school seniors trying to make final college decisions. Looking for solutions for students whose families are experiencing losses due to COVID-19—losses which often cannot even be documented in full yet—have made emergency grants available and adjusted financial aid packages.
According to Director of College Counseling Kevin Crimmins, the best way to find information on updated financial aid is for students to speak directly with the designated college counselor at their college. Waived or reduced enrollment fees and June 1 extensions (as opposed to the usual May 1 commitment day) are a couple of ways that colleges are trying to ease admitted student burdens and help boost their admissions numbers.
“We have waived the enrollment fee, and we have also extended the deadline. … We're working with students on a case by case basis to make Spring Hill as affordable as possible for them … (and) we really recommend speaking with your counselor about job changes, ” said Theresa Bertini, an admissions counselor at Spring Hill College.
Colleges are also using their wait lists to increase their enrollment. Enrollment numbers have been especially impacted at schools that maintain wait lists, which are generally private and more expensive in addition to being selective.
College admissions departments are also now facing issues such as students opting for less expensive schools, questions about international students’ (who pay full tuition at most American universities) ability to return, and some students choosing to defer admission for a gap year. Tapping the waitlist is a practical solution to maintain their expected enrollments.
“In past years, we have seen this amount of wait list usage, but it's always been in the month of May or later,” said Crimmins. “The fact that we have seen as much wait list usage as we have and it’s not yet past the deposit deadline is really remarkable.”
The potential enrollment shortage facing colleges also comes after the US v. National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) decision, in which the court found the anti “poaching” guidelines, which prevented schools from plucking students committed elsewhere by offering more financial aid, are a violation of antitrust laws. The result of this decision could lead to many schools continuing to compete for students even after enrollment deposits have been made.
“Those provisions are now gone, (so) there is no protection ... to prevent that kind of poaching, argument, and financial aid wheeling and dealing to happen,” said Crimmins. “This is going to be a really interesting thing to see this year.”
Some schools have already committed to the first semester of classes to be online, while many others have not yet cancelled June orientations. What next year will bring to this year’s senior class is anything but clear. The College Counseling Department has adopted an “embrace the suck” mindset, urging students to accept that the extremely unpleasant present is unavoidable, and that making the most of it and moving forward is the best way to deal with the situation.
“If you, as an outgoing or incoming senior, can adopt this mindset (of ‘embrace the suck’) and understand that literally everyone in the country and the world is in a similar situation right now, it will be a great reframe and will hopefully decrease any anxiety or worry you have,” said college counselor Kate Kindbom. “Also know that your college counselors are here for you by email or Zoom to talk through any questions or issues you may have.”
Colleges and universities are also adapting to make themselves more accessible online to prospective students. Virtual tours have been enhanced because students are now unable to travel, and many cities are under stay at home orders. Basic YouTube videos are being replaced with interactive videos with 360º camera views. Admissions websites are being updated with student testimonials, making digital visits as much like the real thing as possible.
“Colleges are doing a good job of making those virtual visits approachable and accessible to students,” said college counselor Kate Kindbom. “It's also a good idea to visit colleges through external sites like CampusReel and YouTube so it doesn't feel like just marketing when you are having to visit colleges online.”
Standardized testing options have also been disrupted for the current juniors. Spring ACT and SAT tests were cancelled due to COVID-19, limiting opportunities to test and retest. As a result, some colleges are going test-optional for the 2020-2021 application cycle. Absent a normal hallmark for pinning one applicant's academic strength against others, useful for its objectivity and universality, colleges will find themselves leaning more heavily on other factors like GPA, curriculum strength, and course load to get a better understanding of where a student is academically.
“It's good news for students that are unable to test because they have opportunities to still apply to college and still be considered,” said Crimmins. “Bad news is SLU High students on average test really well when given proper preparation and ample opportunity to take that test.”
AP tests, a high stakes end of year event for many juniors and seniors alike, have moved online and simplified their structure. Most colleges are sticking with their previous AP credit awarding policies, even though the AP exams this year are abbreviated and taken at home. Although test security issues have been raised because of the lack of a physical administrator, open book and open note policies make what would normally be methods of cheating fair game, and the College Board is taking new measures to look for suspicious activity.