As a former high school counselor, I know the start of a new school year is exciting. The journey toward college and the future can, however, cause some apprehension under the best of circumstances. This year, with all the unknowns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, there is a heightened sense of anxiety among juniors and seniors especially. But if you and your family are healthy, there are things you can do to relieve some stress and still propel yourself toward your post-graduation goals.
Although federal officials are urging colleges and K-12 schools to re-open for the fall, many institutions plan to continue virtual instruction or adopt a hybrid model that blends in-person and online learning.
And while much of the news surrounding the coronavirus is somber, some education experts think the expansion of more flexible learning options could be a good thing, particularly for postsecondary education.
School closures and the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus propelled a decrease in FAFSA applications nationally, according to an Associated Press analysis of federal data.
As of mid-June, 70,000 fewer students had filed for federal aid compared to the same time period in 2019. The decline represents a 3.7 percent drop overall.
The French journalist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr once quipped, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Loosely translated, the more things change, the more they remain the same. This year was filled with unprecedented change…how many times have we heard or used that expression? Ironically, for the world of college counseling in North America, it wasn’t a year of unprecedented change…it was a mere four months. In a mere four months, my school went from 100 percent residential to 100 percent online. Our numeric grading system went on hiatus and pass/fail became the norm. We witnessed placid juniors morph into angst-ridden young adults lacking self-efficacy and wanting the confines standardized tests provided. And yet, senioritis remained relentless. Some things never change.
When I left my office on March 13, I took what I needed in case I would be working from home for a few weeks. The prospect seemed possible and probable at that time. The list of counseling office responsibilities during the last months of the school year is long and filled with many gatherings. My school has 3,400 students in grades 9 through 12. Recognition ceremonies dominate that time of the year, as is the case in all high schools. Collection of information from our seniors and the preparation of our underclassmen for the next school year fill the days of our counselors. Once it was announced we would not return for the rest of the school year, the transition to online delivery of services was swift. Within the first few weeks, many services, including conducting special education annual review conferences, enrollment intakes, and scheduling meetings began occurring virtually. Checking in with our most vulnerable students occurred daily. Professional development continued via Zoom each week and regional conferences were also attended virtually. A plan was set up to recognize students in different ways, since in-person events had to be canceled.
With the coronavirus pandemic raising doubts about the feasibility of in-person classes next year, a growing number of high school grads are considering taking a gap year.
But what should families know about this option? Education reporter Elissa Nadworny recently shared some important insights with National Public Radio listeners.
“Research has shown that those who do a gap year—so that’s (a) specific time away with a clear enrollment plan—they do really well when they get to college. They tend to be whiter and wealthier and have highly educated parents,” Nadworny said in a segment that aired earlier this month. “At the same time, we know that for many students, when they simply delay enrollment or they put off college to work to save money, the longer they wait, the harder it is to get a degree. And that’s especially true for low-income students.”
Colleges continued to offer online coursework this spring amid the coronavirus pandemic, but one educator says the “new normal” unfairly disadvantaged her students at MiraCosta College.
The two-year school is part of the California Community College District, and sociology instructor Kat Soto-Gomez said shifting learning online – particularly during a time of economic turmoil – hastened student attrition.
Her Ed Surge essay highlights the challenges low-income students face during the coronavirus pandemic. As one student told her after falling behind on his coursework: “I didn’t realize I would be deemed an ‘essential worker’ working at The Home Depot.”
Will incoming college freshmen opt to stay closer to home this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic?
Early enrollment data from a handful of US colleges suggests that may the case.
According to a recent article from the Associated Press (AP), commitments from in-state students have increased by 26 percent at the University of Texas at Arlington, 20 percent at The Ohio State University, and 15 percent at Michigan State University.
“Students want to be closer to home in case an outbreak again forces classes online,” the article notes. “Some are choosing nearby schools where they’re charged lower rates as state residents.”
Disruptions caused by the coronavirus will likely lengthen the time students take to earn a college degree, education experts say. And the effects will be felt most acutely by low-income and first-generation students.
“This could add a year or two easily to a student’s time to degree,” Kristen Renn, an education professor at Michigan State University, told The Hechinger Report.
How can counselors and others best assist high school juniors who are kicking off their college search amid the shutdown?
View a transcript of our most recent #NACACchat. Special guests included Jill Cook, assistant director with the American School Counselor Association; Lindsey Barclay, member services manager with the National College Attainment Network; Jennifer Davis, digital content marketing manager with The Common Application; and Tracy Jackson, school counseling supervisor with Loudoun County Public Schools.