To College or Not to College?

by Joyce Slayton Mitchell

HARDWICK – Change. Change is and will be the action word in your life now and for the next few academic years. Easy for the rest of us to say, and so hard for you and your family to hear, imagine, and figure out.

There is change from the colleges every day about what to do with their freshman class of 2020-2021. You will have heard of online classes for next year, new registration dates, change in prices, students on campus or not, occupying residence halls or not. Classes held on campus for one semester, followed by a semester online. Priority given to freshman and seniors who plan to graduate in May. Half of the freshman taking classes on campus for first semester with the other half taking classes online, and then alternating the groups for the second semester.

How to figure it all out? Check with your college about the options available to you.

There are also opportunities for taking a year off from college. Here are a few ideas to consider.

  • Take a year off before your freshman year. Think of something you can safely do, that your parents will agree to. There are many fee-required programs, under the heading of “AP YEAR.”There are also internships and service programs all over American developed especially for this pandemic year. Go online and see what you can find. For example, start with this online listing of community service opportunities here.   
  • Explore Teen Service opportunities here.
  • Search “high school graduate opportunities” online for jobs or opportunities in sports, the arts or other area of interest.
  • Create your own idea. You don’t need someone else to organize your time if you can think of ways to spend next year within your family or with a few friends also looking to take a college year off.
  • Online classes. If you want to stay home and take college credit courses next fall, check online options at your college. Also check out non-credit courses you might like to take at other colleges. It might be a great opportunity to take a course in physics or philosophy or in the arts, even if you are not formally pursuing a degree in those areas.

Whether you choose to begin college in the fall or to wait a year, you will have plenty of company among other high school graduates.

Every day the colleges are working to find the safest way to organize their particular campus and create solutions to help students obtain the best education possible. Currently, approximately 61% of colleges have decided to open their campus in the fall. For some colleges that means half of the freshman class will attend school on campus for the first semester, and the other half the second semester, allowing all new students to meet their classmates and get acquainted with school culture while limiting risk of exposure to COVID-19.

Some state universities – UC universities, for one – have decided they are too big to safely have undergraduates on campus in 2020. Other state universities are accepting a modified enrollment of students, with a mixed program of in-class and on-line learning, such as UVM (University of Vermont). Take a look at their website to get an idea of how UVM and other state universities may organize freshman year here.

A typical U.S. liberal arts residential college (1,500 to 2,000 students) such as Amherst College in western Massachusetts explained how they plan to manage their freshman class here.

Use these two examples to give you ideas of what questions to ask your college (e.g., how many in a dorm room, are meals provided in distanced seating, will there be in-class instruction, sports, music and arts activities).

Parents, think back to your high school graduation and looking forward to leaving home with your classmates for college. Can you imagine being persuaded to stay home another year because of a national health factor? Can you imagine waiting to find out if classes will be held on campus or a mix of online and in person classes? Can you imagine missing out on the dorm life experience? Freshmen today are grappling with difficult choices that you did not have to face.

Freshman students, it’s your choice. Whether you choose to attend classes on campus, online, or take a year off, “The Class of 2024 marches on!”