Pandemic Shifts Priorities for College Bound

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend plans and create uncertainty, high school seniors making college decisions were especially impacted as they scrambled to put down tuition and boarding deposits before May 1.

Speculation that many colleges may not resume in-person instruction for fall semester has some students reconsidering their initial post-high school plans. Rather than pay steep tuition prices for distance learning, some students are now planning to defer their attendance, or to enroll in a less expensive institution.

“The colleges that I have talked to are going to be doing a case-by-case basis for students regarding deferment,” said College and Career Counselor Joan Batcheller.

Batcheller noted that, due to current circumstances, taking a so called “gap year” during the pandemic may look very different from what it has been in the past. “A gap year traditionally means that you are working or you are traveling or you are doing some sort of humanitarian kind of work, but obviously you are not going to be doing any kind of thing this year as a gap year,” she said.

Unfortunately, deferment may not be an option for some. For the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems, “you can’t defer, you can just reapply next fall,” said Batcheller. She added that students who decide to attend a community college until their original college of choice re-opens lose their admission status and must reapply as transfer students.

“You can take classes, but you can’t report anything, so they won’t count for anything other than your own personal growth,” Batcheller said.

Senior April Lindblad was considering taking a gap year. “I was thinking about doing that, I wanted to defer a semester or a year, but the problem is if there are online classes, then social distancing is still in place so there is not anything I’d be able to do in that time,” said Lindblad, so “[I] might as well take online classes and get it over with.”

With most American colleges closing in March due to the pandemic, many students were forced to accept admission without ever having physically visited the campuses.

Senior Kimya Peyvan relied on internet forums, like Quora and Reddit, to help her make her decision. “I could ask people who go there questions and I also got contact info for people. Everything was online which can be kind of risky because everyone is biased and has their own views on something, so it was kind of hard to form my own opinion,” she said.

“Both of the schools that I was deciding between, I was originally planning on traveling and visiting them,” added Peyvan. “Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I wasn’t able to get flights out to the universities, especially since 1 is international. It made it really stressful because I was supposed to meet up with teachers and coaches and get a vibe for the campus which I couldn’t.”

The Coronavirus has also influenced how far away from home some students are willing to go for college.

“Since the other school was international it made me realize how important it is to be close to your family and I didn’t have family at the other school,” said Peyvan. “I knew if I was attending that school right now, during the pandemic, that I would be stuck there and I wouldn’t be able to get a flight back. Rather, if I was at UCLA or somewhere closer, I could just drive back [up] and it wouldn’t be too big a deal.”

The rising costs of obtaining a college education have been further exacerbated by the pandemic. It can be difficult to write a check when you are not certain what you will be getting in return. In addition, many families have lost significant income as a result of the economic impact of shelter-in-place restrictions, forcing people to rethink their budgets.

“If you never got to go see University of Richmond or Boston College or NYU and you are going to sign unseen – it is more difficult to think you are going to pay $70k a year for a school you never got to see,” said Batcheller. “You might decide, ‘Hey, I’ll go to Long Beach State because it makes more sense economically, and because I have been to Long Beach State and I like the location and it has my major.’”

“UCLA was the more expensive option for me and because of the pandemic, both my parents’ jobs were up in the air\; they didn’t know if they would get to keep them because so many people are getting laid off,” said Peyvan. “It just made my decision a lot harder and made me research more to see if UCLA was worth that extra $10,000 a year to go there.”

“With the current situation, I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a place I’ve never even seen before. So, I thought it would be better to stay in-state and local,” said senior Ally Lee.

Batcheller also predicted that college tuition might become more expensive to compensate for the loss of international students due to travel restrictions and precautions. “If [President] Trump goes through with not allowing student visas, no one can come to school in America, and that is going to be a lot of seats at the table across our county,” said Batcheller. “It is going to cause huge issues and unnecessary issues. But there is also going to be a cost, there is a financial thing.”

“[Colleges] might [accept] more students because they know they will get less international students, but the tuition is going to be more expensive. They are going to raise the cost of tuition because they got to make up the money somewhere. International students make a lot more money and to go to school it is going to be more expensive,” Batcheller said.

Batcheller noted that choosing a more expensive option might hurt in the long run. “[For] kids a few years ago, the market was high and the economy was great, everyone was getting jobs. There was no worry about kids getting employed or getting jobs and now there is a real concern for that,” she said. “And so to graduate with a lot of debt and not necessarily have the same job poresects is you know a bad formula for your generation.”