"I really think people are just waiting to see."
High school seniors heading to college in the fall are going to face a tough decision in the middle of the global novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic: pursue a truncated university experience at the school of their preference which may be lacking in "traditional" occurrences, or continue their education at a less expensive option locally, but save money while learning online.
Tatnall School's Director of College Counseling Lee Morgan said the university's themselves are currently operating as if they're going to open normally until its decided otherwise later in the summer.
"I think the schools are planning to open in the fall," she said. "If it's in a different way, they're still planning on being there in-person. They are, right now, planning that things will be on par and worth the investment."
It also hasn't seemed to slow down families or what they're planning.
"The families that I've spoken to were full-steam ahead, waiting to hear if, and when, we shouldn't be," she said. "I had one student who's going to do a gap year--which, frankly, she was anticipating doing a gap year before everything happened--and a couple of kids still deciding what their plans are, but it seems to be pretty on par for where we usually are."
It's a conversation worth having, said Abby van Geldern from Collegewise. The benefits and costs should be weighed carefully before committing.
"I think given the college investment, and that cost of tuition is so high, I think it is very important for families to sort of discuss what their ultimate goals are and purpose of going to colleges for each of those students, and think about what that might look like if it is a remote setting or if it is in person or if it's an abbreviated semester." she said. "How does that impact your overall academic goals and college experience?"
Students know, and are expecting, an experience that will be unique to what life looked like prior to the pandemic, and it's a difficult decision to make in the face of so much in limbo.
"All of our April and May was sort of handling these conversations with seniors that are feeling pretty anxious about what their next step is going to look like. they've already missed graduation and summer stuff is somewhat uncertain," van Geldern said. "Our traditional sense of what college looks like is falling out the window at this point, and I think colleges are going to continue to evolve and adapt--and they're always going to put students first, and figure out what's the best way to serve their students in the long run. So I have a lot of students that are planning to just enroll in the fall and then I have a few students that are also considering taking a gap year experience."
She cautioned against what one might be able to gain from a gap year during these times. Even the gap year experience would be modified under current conditions.
"I tread lightly with the gap year only because, if we're still in a self-distancing, quarantine lifestyle, there's going to be severe limitations to what you can do and gain from the gap experience, and so I just want students to really think through what that ultimate goal would be of doing a gap year versus just adapting to the new systems that colleges will put in place for remote learning or academics."
Morgan also suggested there may be financial benefits, if education is ultimately the pursuit most interesting to students, as schools will likely offer modifications to tuition for virtual experiences.
"Hang tight for another couple weeks. Everyone I've spoken to you, they're talking about being there in person. The Living-Learning Community is what makes a college," she said. "I also can't imagine that whole dollar amount is what's going to be charged for online learning. I mean, they have to come up with a way to to figure that out. It's a big question."