Fall Semester Means College Planning for Seniors and Parents

"What is best for you and your child? I think (that) is the best way to look at it."

With the start of a new school year, parents of high schoolers are starting to look ahead to the college years.  That means doing some advanced planning when it comes to how to pay for college. 05 20 20 Covid School Council

But the pandemic also creates a lot of uncertainty with what the college experience will look like. COVID is changing the way students and parents are planning. It has some students and parents reconsidering their next move – and others coming up with a backup plan. Matt Breimayer is a college planning specialist with Right Path College & Career Planning in Traverse City. He says, “Now is the time for seniors.”

The start of a new school year has many students doing online learning from home. But tackling a college plan still has to move forward. Breimayer says, “I know right now we have a hard time getting in front of our school counselors, but if you’re able to, our school counselors have a lot of good opportunities, scholarship opportunities.” He adds, “Parents are very overwhelmed and confused right now when it comes to college. Especially with COVID around right now they’re not really sure what they should be doing, what are the timeframes?  They don’t know where to start.”

That’s why he says it’s important to do some advanced planning and look at your options. “Does it make sense to go off to a university that may be out of state? That maybe costs a little more? With the COVID environment does it make sense just to stay locally for a couple of years, and then transfer on?”

Some universities are moving to online classes or a hybrid option with some classes in person, and some virtual classes. But that may not be what parents or students signed up for. Breimayer says it’s a question that has come up before. “Does it make sense to spend all this money if they’re simply going to sit in an apartment or dorm room and learn virtually where they could be doing that from home?  Some parents are concerned about sending their kids off to certain cities because of the COVID situation. Should they send them out of state? Should they stay local for a period of time?”

College planners say if there was ever a time for a backup plan – this is it. “Some people are asking me, ‘should we spend the money to go to a university where it may be all virtual?’ We don’t know what the future looks like, so we should plan that we are going to go in person, but as we get closer let’s look at those options.”

Breimayer says now is the time to start thinking about college applications, taking the SAT and ACT, and looking into scholarships. “People are concerned about applications, college visits, ACT/SAT preparation. The FAFSA that’s coming up. The main thing is they’re really overwhelmed and they need some direction and we’re here to help with that.”

According to a study from LendEDU, 43% of current high school seniors are considering taking a year off. 40% are considering changing their plans and transferring to a school closer to home, and 37% are now considering local community colleges.  Cathryn Claerhout is the Director of Admissions at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City. “We saw a number of students that were accepted at four year institutions, bailing, jumping back out and saying ‘I’m not going to go, I’m going to stay here and do classes with you guys online.’

Northwestern Michigan College projected a 10% drop in enrollment this fall due to fewer seniors graduating from Michigan high schools, and another 5% drop due to COVID. But instead of a 15 % drop, Claerhout says the decline in enrollment is closer to 7-8%. “It definitely is telling me that students are kind of being a little smart and taking a good look at where they’re going, what they’re doing, and how much money they want to spend on it.”

Whatever your questions – and whatever your plan of action – planners say the important thing is to start taking steps now.  Breimayer says you have to act, despite any uncertainty. “We’re recommending that you progress as usual, and continue to move forward with your college planning.”

Breimayer says they help students all over the state and all across the country. “We help people with the financial, academic, and athletic side of college. We do a lot of virtual meetings, so if you’re in the area, or even if you’re not in the area, you can look to us as a resource.” You can get more information about Right Path here.

Categories: Coronavirus