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Articles / Applying to College / College Selection During A Pandemic

College Selection During A Pandemic

Dave Berry
Written by Dave Berry | Oct. 1, 2020
College Selection During A Pandemic


As many college-bound high school seniors are aware, this is your Season of Selection. It's time to finalize the list of schools that will get your applications.

This has been a most unusual year. That's probably a huge understatement. However, don't allow the weirdness and dislocation of what has been going on in your life since the end of your junior year to distract your focus from the right way to select your colleges.

Most of you are familiar with the three categories of college selection: Reach, Ballpark (sometimes called "Target" or "Match"), and Safety. No doubt, most of you have already started perusing the various ranking lists that have come out. If you haven't seen any rankings yet, check out my two-part series that covers some of the more popular lists here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).

The key point to remember when you're looking at these lists, as I mention in my Part 1 review, is "something that has been one of my battle cries for decades: Avoid making your college decisions based on rankings!" The temptation to pursue "prestige" (whatever that may be) can blind your objectivity and distort your selections, causing you to miss the best matched school(s) for you.

There's a lot of good advice out there about how to choose a college during a pandemic. Here's a quick summary of some articles I found that can help you do just that:

And for parents:

You'll hardly ever have time to cover all the comments written about college selection during this strange time, but if you want to explore more than what I've cited above, dig down through the items on these search results.

Plan out Your College Process

Because I know you're very busy, I'll highlight a few of the nuggets of wisdom from some of the bulleted articles above. If you see something that piques your interest, check out the entire article and take notes so you won't forget what you've read. Create a folder, either on paper or in digital form. Call it "My College Process." Don't forget to include the sage advice you can gather from the articles on College Confidential. All this information in your folder can be your guide through the complexities of finding the right school for you.

Here, then, are some of the points from select titles cited above:

Chat With Students and Alumni

Who knows better what it's like to study at a particular college than past or current students? Talking to a student or alum can be extremely helpful while making a hard decision. Someone from your school, cousins, or family may be attending or have graduated from the colleges you are considering.

Reach out to this extended community to schedule a talk. Armed with honest, unfiltered opinions of life at your potential college, you will be at a better place to make that critical college decision without being able to experience the atmosphere yourself.

Two excellent points from Forbes:

Seek Variety

It is said that variety is the spice of life, and when one is trying to choose a college, spicy is good. Seek out multiple sources and voices as you look to gain a better understanding of the experience on each campus. Using social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn can be helpful, allowing you to connect with other newly admitted students and graduates from your high school who attend the colleges you are considering. Ask about academic life, social life, athletics, the arts, the food and other various areas that are important to you. Always consider the source and the subjective nature of the information you are gathering, and by all means, be mindful of your interactions online as you don't want to risk your acceptance being rescinded because of inappropriate behavior, as has happened in the past

Some very thoughtful advice about why you want to go to college, quoted with my bold emphasis:

Be Intentional

What do you want out of your college education? What is the experience you hope to have? What is your goal? For some, it might be getting a college degree for the least amount of money. For others, their aspirations might be more specific, like earning a nursing license. Or maybe one is after a college experience that is broader and centered on student life and/or developing a network. There is no correct answer, but as you choose the right school for you, a clearer understanding of your objective will help guide you. What are your wants and needs? Hopefully, you identified these before you began your college search, but if not, take time to articulate for yourself what is negotiable and non-negotiable about what you are looking for in a school. You also might not have clarity on an objective which could be informative in and of itself and perhaps your college choice should be a school with a wider range of opportunities

Two points from La Salle University:

Make a Tech Connection

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities have postponed their on-campus events and day-long student experiences. Now, these institutions are transitioning those face-to-face interactions into virtual opportunities. For example, La Salle's Blue and Gold Day will offer information sessions, video-recorded campus tours, breakout academic sessions with faculty from each of the University's three schools — all of which can be viewed from the comfort of home

Examine a University's COVID-19 Response

From their list of top college choices, students should look at how those institutions have communicated during the COVID-19 public health crisis. How often have they shared messages with their University community? What kind of academic or operational changes have they instituted? Are they adhering to best practices from global health agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?

How a college or university operates during a time of crisis is a strong indicator of how it will operate during business as usual

Finally, for parents:

Discuss the Location

Attending college during a global pandemic is a tricky situation, and it can get even more complicated if your student will be attending college in a location that has been overwhelmed by the coronavirus or is far from home. Consequently, you and your student need to evaluate whether or not the university is located in an area where your student will feel safe.

Consider things like how far it is from home, how much access they will have to outside resources, and the safety and security of the area. You also should consider how hard the area has been hit by COVID-19 and whether or not the numbers of cases are going down or continuing to rise. Also, look at how local authorities have managed the situation.

In the end, only you and your student will know what locations are the most desirable. For instance, some students want to attend a university that is located in a big city while others prefer a small college town. Meanwhile, some want to be a good distance from home, and others would prefer a short commute home to see family and friends anytime they want. Interestingly, in light of the coronavirus, 25 percent of students surveyed by the ed-tech company Cirkled In say that location will impact their decision

COVID-19 has changed much about the college process. The information above can help you handle those changes. The time to start learning is now!

Share Your Thoughts

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Check out our forum to contribute to the conversation!

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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