Five College Search Tips for a COV-19 World

Rutgers has been, and will continue to be rising up many lists!

COVID-19 has upturned many lives. I have no doubt that it will affect decisions for those who have received acceptances as well as those who are starting their college search. Here are five early questions, with considerations to help.

Will costs be a major concern? Do not go into a search with expectations that schools will offer need-based or merit-based aid after receiving an acceptance. Look at schools that are as specific as possible (GPA, especially, and class rank for schools that rank) about the criteria for merit aid. Many schools post them on their Web sites. Use the FAFSA 4caster or the College Board’s EFC Calculator to get a preliminary idea on how much your family might be expected to pay for college. Do a budget that includes the costs that you already pay to help your child while s/he is in high school. These include allowance, health insurance, fashion, transportation, computer and more. You will still have some of these costs, definitely more for books, likely more for transportation.

Is college close to home always the best option? It really depends on where you live, your academic profile and your ability to get to and from campus. I can see more students opt to commute to school for the first year and live with their families. But commuting in a COVID-19 world more likely means pick-up/drop-off from home or a car. Check the costs of a new or nearly new car and insurance before you commit to commuting. The car should be a model with proven reliability that can be supported by a local dealer when it requires servicing.

Do your top schools offer academic flexibility? Some schools may allow you to take courses close to home during the summer. The most flexible schools will be those like Penn State and Ohio State that have multiple locations as well as an online presence. Other schools, like Rutgers, offer an online winter session. Check to see if you can take courses at your local public college over the summer or online, and receive credits for them at any school that you ultimately choose. This might help you to graduate on time, possibly earlier.

If you are forced off campus, will you receive refunds for room and board? Will you also be asked to pay student fees for programs and services that you cannot use? The schools that become known as difficult will become known through social media. But don’t look at that as be-all, end-all. Ask the admissions and financial aid offices the tough questions. Note the promptness and tone of their answers. You want to work with a college where you will be treated fairly in the most dire circumstances.

What are the school’s health care facilities? Ask how students are treated in the event of injury or serious illness. A large school might have its own medical center. But it might not be able to accommodate students for long hospital stays. Smaller schools should have relationships with area hospitals that can provide care for their students.

Share this information with anyone who is in, or about to be in, a college admissions cycle. All of us in this community—admissions officers, school counselors and independent advisors—want you to leave the COVID-19 world better off, ready for your journey to college.

There are more tips in the College Insights section of my Web site,