Letter to the Class of 2020
To the Graduating Class of 2020,
Over the past month, our phones and emails have been alive with questions, concerns and plenty of emotional conversations with your fellow senior classmates and their parents. More often than not, we are left unable to answer your most pressing questions, simply because there is not one universal solution to the current pandemic we are facing. While we don’t have all the answers, we are honored to act as a resource for you and your family during this difficult time.
Trust us, we understand the difficult emotions and disappointments you are rightly experiencing. Debbie and Amy, the co-owners of North Shore College Consulting, each have a graduating high school senior this year, and their hearts go out to all of you. As children born during September 11th and now looking to begin college in the midst of a global pandemic, you have already shown great strength and resilience that will motivate you to go change the world. Personally, we cannot wait for that day to come.
We wanted to share some context and information to help provide a better idea of the options colleges and universities across the nation are considering for the upcoming fall 2020 semester. It is important to keep in mind that institutions are not making a single plan for the upcoming academic year. Instead, most are creating multiple contingencies to account for every possible scenario and to set their students up to be both safe and successful. It is imperative that you stay updated on the direction your college is taking, which you can monitor here. Many schools who have not made formal announcements will likely do so as early as this week, or as late as mid-July. Regardless, there are still many questions left unanswered, but here is what we know today.
A Freshman Year Fully Online?
It is hard to imagine experiencing your freshman year of college from the comfort of your own home. Frankly, this is the reality for many universities in areas hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to our data, roughly 58% of colleges and universities have already made the decision to move at least a portion of their classes online for the fall 2020 semester, with many more strongly considering it as an option. Those institutions who have already chosen to operate virtually through the end of 2020 will likely monitor the situation closely, and from those findings make a decision about how their spring 2021 semester will take form. Experiencing college virtually will have its fair share of benefits and concerns, but we encourage you to take time to reflect on your unique learning style and decide whether fully online will be the best option for you.
Embracing the Hybrid Model
Another option many universities are considering is adopting a semester plan that combines an online and in-seat component. This ‘hybrid model’ has many variations, with each possibility being designed to fit the unique needs of each campus and student body. Nearly 62% of institutions are cutting back on in-person classes, with even more choosing to move the majority of classes to some sort of online format. Some hybrid models include:
Starting classes online then transitioning to in-person learning once it is safer for the campus community to reconvene.
Delaying the start of the fall semester to later in the summer or early fall
Transitioning to a trimester system, which would provide flexibility for colleges still deciding between in-person or online learning.
Creating an altered in-person class schedule. For instance, a course of 50 students could be split into two groups, with one group of 25 meeting on Monday/Wednesday, and the other 25 meeting on Tuesday/Thursday. This model encourages small class sizes but could certainly be tricky for lecture-style courses designed for 150+ students.
Designing classes that meet only once weekly, with the bulk of lecture and assignments being completed online.
While working to keep up with ever-changing federal and state recommendations, it is easy to see why many colleges and universities are looking into hybrid models. They provide the safety and flexibility of online coursework, while not completely ruling out the possibility of having students back on campus.
Back to (The New) Normal
College campuses are sacred ground. For students, professors, and campus administrators, there is no better place than a fully functioning, vibrantly active campus. Perhaps this is why the large majority of institutions, nearly 70% according to the Chronicle on Higher Education, are pushing to be back on campus this fall. But while students may be allowed to arrive on campus come August, it is unrealistic to believe that life will simply pick back up where it left off in March. Athletic and other campus events will likely have no fans in the stands—and that’s only if they are given the green light to participate in the first place. Chances are, residence halls and libraries will implement strict policies to encourage social distancing, student health and public safety. Although your classes may be in-person, you might be required to have one or two seats between students. Needless to say, it is going to be different. At this point, every college, regardless of public statements to the contrary, is far from sure what form the next academic year will take. We do know, however, that it will almost certainly look and feel different than it has in the past.
Important Services Make the Move Virtual
While it is unclear what each individual institution is choosing for fall 2020, there does seem to be one common thread amongst colleges and universities—moving services online. Many of these services are designed for new, incoming freshmen and include advising, testing, and class registration.
Two-thirds of institutions have moved or are considering moving to remote course placement testing for incoming freshmen. These tests are important in determining which level of science, math, or English you can enroll in. Virtual placement tests will still include proctoring and other security features but will allow you to test from the comfort and safety of your home.
More than half of colleges and universities have moved or are moving to remote advising for freshmen. Online advising will likely take place over the phone, via video chat, or through a combination of other platforms. These appointments are critical to starting your college career off on the right foot, so we certainly encourage making the most of your advising appointment by being prepared (aka, answering the phone when they call you!).
Another 53% of schools have extended or are in the process of extending the course registration window for new, incoming students. However, do not view this extension as an opportunity to push off important deadlines. Rather, view it as a gift, allowing you extra time to study and sit for your placement tests or schedule an appointment with an advisor before the window to register closes.
Is Now the Time to Defer?
Realizing your first semester of college will not be how you have always imagined, some of you might be considering deferring your enrollment for a semester or even a year. Colleges and universities have various policies regarding deferment, including when you can defer, how you must defer, and who you must contact to do so. It is likely that institutions are—or will be—updating their deferment policies as a result of COVID-19. With that said, most schools have strict deferral deadlines, so if you are even vaguely considering it, please research your college’s policy or reach out to your admissions counselor to be certain you don’t miss it!
If you are considering a deferment, we ask that you strongly consider the following questions:
How will you feel about not being on campus in the fall if classes are moved online?
How do you feel about being on campus while practicing social distancing?
How do you feel about your first semester of college looking very different than the experience you had imagined it would be?
If you do decide to defer, what will you do to fill your time?
With many traditional gap year options off the table this year, how would it feel to spend another semester or year at home, unable to do much?
Will you regret being ‘behind’ your peers who decide to not defer their enrollment?
Unfortunately, there still remain more questions than there are answers. Rest assured that the counselors at NSCC have spent hours listening and participating in virtual meetings and webinars with college admission officers, high school counselors, and college administrators from around the country to provide you with the best insight and support for the months to come.
Regardless of which path you decide is right for you, there will continue to be more challenges and obstacles ahead, at least for the time being. Yet, we do know one thing—that you are all resilient enough to adapt to whatever this fall has in store. Embrace your disappointments but remember, you are strong enough to get through this. That is the one thing we are confident about.
The NSCC Team