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  • Writer's pictureDr. Thom

Fall 2020 And COVID-19: Reports from campus and how to plan for college in a new era

University of Nebraska - Lincoln. Photo by Michael Marsh on Unsplash.

We are nearly one month in since move-in at most colleges and universities across the United States. After months of rigorous planning and preparation, colleges are still largely “feeling their way” through a pandemic that is predominantly being managed by a patch-work of state and local policies and initiatives. As such, our advice and guidance to families on how to plan for college depends heavily on where you live and how your state is handling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s what we know at this point:

Campuses reversing course

Hundreds of colleges and universities have announced they will be changing their primary mode of instruction or campus management in response to COVID-19 testing results. Inside Higher Ed has been tracking these alterations in plans since June 2020. Here are some examples:

  • Winona State University in Minnesota announced this week that it will be institute a campus-wide 14-day quarantine for all students and faculty in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 on its campus.

  • West Virginia University has announced courses will be immediately and completely online (except for a select few medical courses) until Sept. 25th.

  • The University of Tennessee, Knoxville sent an email to groups of students this week instructing them to vacate their residence hall as it would be converted to a quarantine facility after Coronavirus cases there doubled.

Reports of student discontent surfacing

This week also saw a widely circulated report on social media claiming to represent first-person testimonials from students enrolled at various universities describing somewhat draconian conditions. While there's no question that college this year looks very different than it ever has before, it's hard to know how to validate whether these claims are true. That is not to say that they are immediately false, but rather a reminder that posts on Facebook sometimes don't paint a full picture.

There are definitely colleges that have struggled to manage this, but there are others that are working hard to keep the college experience in tact and safe and are getting high marks from students for it.

Let’s keep in mind that we are talking about millions of college students across the country. It is not going to be hard to find groups of students who are not happy with the current situation, and for good reason. That was true even before COVID.

Student mental health is a concern

One thing that does seem to be beyond debate are the multiple reports that the uncertainty and near constant instability of campus life is having a real effect on student mental health. In fact, a new survey released just this week reports that at least a quarter of high school and college students know someone who has had suicidal thoughts during the COVID-19 pandemic. The same survey found that nearly half of students felt anxious about returning to school in the midst of a pandemic.

This is on top of what we knew was an already worsening mental health picture for college students. Researchers have noted that often the chronic stress-filled pathway leading up to college leads students to arrive on campus already in the red emotionally. This leaves students with less emotional and psychological tools to handle even normal collegiate-related stress, let alone a unprecedented uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is why Golden Educational Consulting exists. To provide a healthy and wellness-focused method to finding a best-fit college. While we’ve never seen a Fall semester like this (at least in this lifetime), major stress conditions are always present along the college journey to becoming an adult. We must plan accordingly and help our young people learn how to strive for achievement and mastery while maintaining a sense of centeredness and balance. We cannot control what any of these colleges will do in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, but we are still responsible for how we can respond.

That’s why we continue to explore the fullest range of possible options with our students, and we would encourage you to do so as well:

Stop thinking of the SAT/ACT as a big sorting hat: one of the most significant changes to the admissions process this year is the near removal of the ACT and SAT from the factors impacting admissions decisions at a little more than half of all four year colleges and universities. What this shift has really revealed to me is that in a lot of ways, standardized testing was serving as a kind of sorting hat for college options. A student would work hard for many years on their academic coursework and activities only to take one test that would essentially tell them where they can attend college. That is no longer the case for a great many colleges and universities as test optional/blind admissions policies have spread wide. This has been a big mental shift for a lot of the families with whom we work. The focus can be on fit, rather than “where can I get in?”

Every family should at least talk about a gap year: Do we think this uncertainty continues into next fall? We certainly hope not and don’t expect it. Problem is, hope is not a plan. So we are encouraging many families to at least consider having a gap year plan in their back pocket should conditions fail to improve. This is not meant to be hyperbolic or doomsday here, only a recognition that 1) in-person college is a considerable investment and that 2) gap years can be amazing learning experiences. So what better way to respond to an uncertain situation than by seizing back some control and planning a different educational path.

Be monitoring how colleges in your consideration set are communicating in crisis: it tells you a lot about how student-centered they are and how much they value solid communication with students and parents?

Ultimately, our message throughout this pandemic has been simple and consistent: focus on what you can control. So much in our daily world seems (or is completely) out of our control, and for our own emotional health we must jettison the worry about those parts of our lives. When we do, we are able to see all of the parts of our lives that we can control with greater clarity. Our young people will watch us as we do. Stay safe and be god to yourself and together we can help our young people navigate these strange times.

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

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