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  • Writer's pictureDr. Thom

Coronavirus and the College Search: What you need to know

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash
These are not my hands. Or my stethoscope.

“Paging Dr. Golden? I can’t reach a vase on the top shelf.”My wonderful wife calls me from the downstairs of our house to “borrow my height,” while also lovingly teasing me for the fact I have a Ph.D. (in Educational Psychology). Andrew, our oldest son is playing in our living room with a friend, and overhears the request.

Friend to Andrew: “Your dad’s a doctor?”

Andrew to friend: “Yeah, but not the kind who helps people.”

Fair enough kid. My background is NOT in medicine despite the Dr. title. I tell you this as a clear preamble. I am not a medical expert.

While the news of the current pandemic is evolving daily, Coronavirus (COVID-19) has elicited an unprecedented precautionary response from higher education and while my intent with this article is not to evaluate that response (I am not qualified to do that), I do want to provide some guidance on how this pandemic might impact students who are applying to college.

First, some background that may help explain the response from higher education at large. In 2009 and 2010, swine flu (aka, H1N1) infected an estimated 11-21% of the world’s population and sent colleges scrambling to adjust to a highly contagious and dangerous new public health threat. The H1N1 pandemic created a real inflection point in the public health preparations for many colleges, prompting hundreds of institutions to develop virus response plans and preparatory measures for the new normal that was emerging.

Since then, there have been several worldwide epidemics that have swept across the globe: MERS (2012), Ebola (2013), multiple outbreaks of Avian Flu (most recently in 2013 and 2016), and Zika (2015). While only time will tell how the current COVID-19 pandemic compares to those epidemics, it is safe to assume that if it does impact your educational planning, these would be the areas most likely to see it:

Standardized Testing Cancellations

While both the SAT and ACT have not yet cancelled North American based test administrations (as of March 12, 2020), they have done so in many other countries. However, as more schools and districts temporarily suspend classes and student gatherings, many test administration sites may become unusable. In addition, many states have decided, or are considering, to ban large public gatherings which may impact whether tests may be administered.

If that occurs, both the ACT and SAT have publicly stated they would refund test administration fees and provide assistance to students in scheduling for a future test date. While most colleges haven’t stated publicly how they will respond to students impacted by test cancellations due to the COVID-19, you should know that test cancellations are a somewhat regular occurrence and colleges deal with them all the time. These potential cancellations would simply be at a much larger scale.

Class Cancellations

As local school districts around the country determine their response to COVID-19, you may find your student home a lot over the next couple of weeks. In some cases, courses are being shifted to online teaching methods; in other cases, the class suspensions are falling over spring break. In any event, do not spend a minute of time worrying how a college will view this course stoppage. In most cases, the college themselves has been going through the same thing.

Reschedule Campus Visits for the Summer

Another aspect of this pandemic is the mass cancellation of visit opportunities as colleges reconsider off-campus recruitment activities and on-campus visit programming. If you were planning a campus tour during your student’s spring break, contact the college ASAP, if they haven’t already contacted you. Chances are pretty good the visit is cancelled. In the meantime, encourage your student to investigate campuses using virtual tours and make plans for campus tours over the summer.

On-Campus Summer Programs, Gap Year, and Study Abroad, all up in the air

Currently, the CDC is recommending institutions of higher education consider canceling or postponing international travel programs and many of them have done so. Again, this is where the fluid nature of this pandemic makes any recommendations tricky, but in situations where you must make some educational planning decisions in advance make sure you:

  • Get updates from, and the college/organization hosting the program.

  • Get travel insurance and make sure you understand claim restrictions.

  • Make informed choices.

A key tenet of our approach is that the college search is a teachable moment, and a wonderful vehicle for educating young people on how to make adult decisions. In this view, uncertainty created by health epidemics is unfortunately just part of the norm of living in a highly connected global community, and can be used to teach. How do you prepare mentally for unknown variables that affect the choices you have available to you, but which are completely out of your control? By engaging professionals who can inform your decisions, by actively seeking out and leaning in to the information you receive, make decisions and evaluate. Then repeat the cycle.

In times of great uncertainty, this is what we lean on.

Not working with us yet? Feeling stressed by the college search process? Let's chat.

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