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college admissions covid-19college admissions covid-19

Smart Questions for Seniors to be Asking Now for College Enrollment

By Megan Misiewicz

It’s no surprise that COVID-19 has turned college admissions on its head. Though high school seniors will not need to adjust to the rapidly shifting standardized testing schedules and requirements, they and their families are barred from travel at a time traditionally considered critical in the college admissions cycle. Admissions officers nationwide are lamenting opportunities for candidate weekends, visit days, and last chances to personally connect with accepted students prior to decision day. In light of the new factors and family concerns, many colleges have postponed deposit deadlines to June 1. As Jon Boeckenstedt, admissions officer at Oregon State University, recently reported to NPR, “There’s never a good time for a pandemic, but from an admission standpoint, there really couldn’t be a worse time.”

Given the current social distancing mandates and travel bans, how can seniors make an informed decision? In addition, how can they potentially take advantage of their unique season in college admissions history?

1. Utilize Your Social Networks

As any high school senior can readily attest, no one understands her high school as well as she and her friends do. They have had the in-person experience of attending classes, communicating with administration, and have a finger on the pulse of extracurricular and social activities on campus. More than any admissions officer or student guide (who have agendas of their own), a current student can offer an inside look at what a college has to offer. Remember the strength in numbers and safety in a multitude of counselors. As anyone who enjoys online shopping knows, one one-star review, 50 four-star reviews, and 30 five-star reviews give a more holistic picture of a product than any single review.

Find current students enrolled at the colleges you are considering. Search Facebook and Instagram; ask your friends, family, neighbors, etc., if they know someone. Don’t be shy! Most teens and young adults love being asked their opinion of their school. As John Moscatiello mentioned in last week’s podcast, these are two poignant questions to ask each student: What is your favorite part of this university? What would you call your least favorite part?

2. Admissions Officers Do Have Unique Insight

Despite what I mentioned in the above discussion, admissions officers will have access to data that students may not. You’ll want to consider several aspects when selecting a college: academic, social, spiritual, vocational, and more. Here are just a few questions to pose. Sit down with your family, or call your best friend, and brainstorm your priorities for your college experience. Those will inform your best questions.

  • Could I see a picture of a dorm room?
  • Does the school have a free shuttle available? Where does it go, and does it run on weekends?
  • How many students stay on campus every weekend?
  • What percentage of classes are taught by teaching assistants?
  • Are professors available outside of classes and office hours for discussion? How involved are they in campus life?
  • Are there opportunities to be mentored?
  • Are free tutoring services available?
  • Will I be able to take classes outside of my major? Are there long wait lists to do so?
  • What percentage of students goes on to graduate school? Which schools often accept students who graduate from this college?
  • If I were to pursue graduate work at this university, would there be a tuition discount, or could I take some masters-level courses during my undergraduate years to graduate early?
  • If I decide to switch majors after my first year, will I be able to graduate on time?
  • Are there support services for seniors looking for internships and jobs?
  • What percentage of graduating students in my major has found a full-time position shortly after graduation? Where have students completed internships?
  • Are there many Christian fellowships on campus? How many students regularly attend? How many churches are easily commutable from campus? (You may ask the admissions officer to introduce you to someone involved in campus ministry to answer the last two questions.)

3. Negotiate Finances

Much to the surprise and delight of many families, college tuition is often negotiable. While there are exceptions to this rule, the goal of the majority of admissions officers is to ensure that the students they have accepted will enroll. If you have been accepted to a university, it is perfectly reasonable to ask if they would reconsider your financial package. Did you receive a full ride or significant scholarship from a safety school? Use that as leverage.

In a polite, enthusiastic email or phone call, contact admissions. Communicate that you would love to enroll at this particular university, you are excited about the academic opportunities, and can easily see yourself on campus next September. However, finances are a consideration and X school offered you $10,000 more in scholarship and grants per year. Could the Office of Financial Aid possibly look over your family’s finances again? Chances are, they will not match the other school’s offer (especially if it’s not a competitor school), but they often will offer more aid. I predict that in this season of COVID-19, when admissions officers are scrambling to secure seats and many students are opting to attend colleges closer to home, colleges may be a little more generous than usual.

Use this technique mindfully. While it is not viewed negatively and is often expected, communicate this information as politely as possible, and I usually advise that students only negotiate once. Take advantage of this strategy before you pay a deposit. If the admissions office knows you will be enrolling anyways, it has less incentive to work with you. Be aware that it is less likely to yield a significant financial difference at a highly selective university, but every dollar helps!

4.) Take a Deep Breath

Over the past 10 years or so, the likelihood of an American college student to transfer has hovered between 25-33 percent. There are a variety of complex reasons for this statistic, including developing interests, adjusting expectations, social dynamics, and more. While this statistic may seem bleak to some, I view it as a contextualizing, normalizing fact. Theologically-speaking, no perfect school exists. While there are wiser choices, based on opportunities, affordability, and preferences, this decision is not an irreversible ultimatum. Over the past decade, many high school seniors who have had the opportunity to attend visit weekends, extended campus visits (and more) have ultimately decided to transfer. You may too. And if you do, you’ll be in good company.