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10 Tips for Class of 2020 College Bound High School Seniors

Scott Jaschik is the editor of Inside Higher Ed and offers this advice for high school seniors and their parents who are college bound in these uncertain times.

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1. What we say today could be different tomorrow.

I can tell you what I see happening, but with so many unknowns, colleges are adapting minute by minute. The world has become a very different place in just a matter of weeks. That’s going to continue. And so we just need to to figure it out. And it’s very hard. But there are a lot of people at the colleges who will help.

2. Do not be afraid to ask for financial help

Usually it means money. And a lot of parents are probably thinking that the deadline for applying for aid was way back months ago and I didn’t apply or I applied with out-of-date information because I’ve been laid off or I lost a job. There are systems in place that allow you to apply for more aid. But if you don’t ask, you’re not going to get extra help. Even though it is important to get our kids to take responsibility, in this situation, it’s ok for the parents to call. Financial aid officers would appreciate someone who can explain your financial situation and exactly how much money there is.

3. Ask about decision deadlines

Some colleges have to stayed with the typical date, which is May 1st to June 1st. Many more colleges are being pressured to change the date. Other colleges will change the date if you call and ask for it. If you don’t have multiple colleges giving you an extension, you need to make the decision you can on May 1st. But you should ask. You’ve got to ask to get. Remember, the people doing the asking are the people that the colleges have let in. The colleges have already decided so-and-so is worth admitting.

4. Even if you can afford to put down two deposits, don’t do it.

Many of the colleges would say that is unethical. You are supposed to put down one deposit. This year is obviously a very tricky year and many people are dealing with difficult situations. There’s a whole month between now and May 1st. You can ask lots of questions.

5. Read every word of your financial aid offer.

Most offers are guaranteed. But I would read every word. Most of the admissions decisions were made before Corona and some of that financial information may now be out of date. The bigger problem is going to be students whose financial situation has worsened since the deadline. They may or may not get extra help from the college. Colleges have to answer your questions.

6. Beware “loaded” financial aid offers.

This means that colleges give you the bulk of the aid in the first year or two and then you’re kind of on your own later. So you need to call and say, “I need to understand I’m going to get X amount in year one, Y amount in year two, Z in year three, and you need to go through the details so that you’re sure you understand it.

7. Waitlists will be a mess this year.

Waitlists have been unpopular for a long time because many colleges put way more students on a wait list than can possibly be admitted. But this year they may admit more from the wait list. I don’t know what’s going to happen with yields, but waitlist isn’t a guarantee. It’s not a sure thing. And we get financial aid on the wait list. So I would just be very careful.

8. Kids may change their minds about where they want to go to college.

They may want to be closer to home. They may be worried about being capable of paying for something. Someone could get sick in their family. There are lots of reasons why. I would try to make a decision by May 1st or June 1st if you have the offers. But at any date you can call the college. A very highly selective college has more money to give out, and they don’t fear students coming to them. The less selective colleges are most worried. They really will do what they can to help, but they may not have as much money to help.

9. Some colleges are going to go out of business.

Most of the colleges that are really in danger of going under don’t have a lot of students. So probably your student isn’t applying there. But Google your college. Come to our site and look at the information. You’ll see if they’re local news articles about the college being in bad shape. Find out what the situation is. There’s going to be a greater problem, I think, with colleges just not having quite enough money, than colleges actually closing. Check our website at to get up to date information about the financial health of a college.

10. Look carefully at options

Many colleges will lose money and have to make changes. A student may not get as good an education as they would have otherwise. Class sizes increase, and financial aid awards decrease. It’s really whether or not your student is a top student going to the most competitive colleges. There are all kinds of things you can do. But it does require an honest analysis of your student and where he or she is. It’s just a matter of knowing what the choices are. They might or they might go to community college where they could learn great things and get ahead. It’s a very good option for people who are not sure what they want to do. Or people who, because of Corona virus, maybe have a parent who’s sick or a parent who just lost the job. Maybe students will want to defer. You are usually allowed to defer for a year, but you need to read the offer very carefully and see what’s in the offer letter.

Susan Borison, mother of five, is the founder and editor of Your Teen Media. Because parenting teenagers is humbling and shouldn’t be tackled alone.

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