The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted plans for college bound students and their families. In “survey after survey,” The Chronicle of Higher Educationreports, 2020 students “are rethinking their plans.” Instead of waiting around for your college’s re-opening plans (which might change with shifting circumstances), I advise students and families to assume that they’ll be living in a virtual schooling environment for the academic year and to respond accordingly. Here are some steps that students can take to assure their success.

Advocate For Yourself In Matters of Tuition, Safety, and Non-Enrollment

Students are making difficult decisions about possibly deferring enrollment. While some colleges like Miami University of Ohio and Swarthmore College have made explicit the options for deferment, other colleges like UCLA and Princeton provide less flexibility. For example, one of our students wanted to enroll part-time at UCLA, but was denied. This was unexpected given that the university typically offers this option with a dean’s approval.

At other colleges, gap years are technically permitted but students risk losing scholarships. Kris Marsh, a family business consultant and parent of a child at Central Michigan University (CMU) reports that “Students will lose their scholarships if they enroll anywhere else [during a gap year], including online courses. So, [students] can take a year off and risk falling behind, or risk coming to campus. That’s an unfortunate policy.”Recommended For You

Students and families are also frustrated by the lack of tuition reductions. One Seattle University parent laments, “we pay tuition based on a different model of support, education, and experience [in person].”  Newsweek reported earlier this summer that more than 60 colleges were sued for tuition reimbursement due to adjustments made to the student learning experience in the spring. For the upcoming academic year, some universities, like Williams College, are offering tuition reductions of 10% while others like Colorado public colleges have held tuition flat. At institutions where policies are less accommodating of students, Dr. Sher Downing, Founder of Downing EdTech predicts that “lawsuits will start appearing at institutions nationwide.”

If you find yourself in a difficult situation like the ones above, we encourage you to advocate for yourself to receive the appropriate accommodations, whether it’s in taking a leave of absence, a part-time course load, or in receiving a tuition reduction. If needed, consider hiring an attorney or getting a letter from a physician to support you in your request.

See A Gap Year As An Upside

Last year, about 40,000 high school seniors chose to take a year off before beginning their freshman year in college, according to the Gap Year Association, a nonprofit that accredits gap year programs. That number is likely to skyrocket this year given Covid-19.

Shawn Hall, founder of college scholarship consultancy All Roads Education, suggest that students “create their own non-traditional gap year,” including taking required courses at community college. This step can help to reduce the financial burden of college (assuming your primary institution will accept the associated transfer credits) while allowing students to make academic progress.

Another gap year advocate, Abby Brody, founder of Mind the Gap an organization that runs gap year programs, cites research that gap year programs help students to gain “a higher sense of self-awareness” and competency in navigating anxiety and stress. Given the stressful circumstances surrounding Covid-19, it is appropriate that students and families make individualized and careful decisions that enable them to continue building on their successes while minimizing the downfalls from this crisis. While taking a gap year is not the only option for navigating Covid-19, creating a gap year plan as a fallback to college is a good idea.

Students and families, our hearts go out to you during this challenging time. Do not navigate this situation without guided support for your own circumstances.

Forbes

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