Coronavirus causes college dilemmas for the Class of 2020

HOUSTON – The Class of 2020 missed out on prom, traditional graduation ceremonies and now the coronavirus is threatening the start of their college careers too.

The Dilemma

Terria Williams has dreamed of attending Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee since she was a little girl. She worked hard to get there. The Galena Park Early College High School senior has received more than $500,000 in scholarship offers from about 20 colleges and universities around the country. Last week, she signed her acceptance letter to Fisk University where she will major in biology.

Now Williams is waiting, like hundreds of thousands of other students, to find out if her first year at college will be on campus, or if she will be logging in for classes from home.

“It’s very bittersweet to know that I planned all this time since I was a toddler really to go to school, off to college and get a big an HBCU experience, to know that it will be delayed or altered is kind of weird in a way,” Williams said.

Students consider less expensive options

With faculty and staff working remotely, many universities have canceled visits and have even moved new student orientations online. With so much uncertainty about their freshman year, some education experts said staying home and attending a community college may make more sense for families whose income was impacted by the coronavirus.

Ibrahim Firat, the chief education consultant at Firat Education, said it is hard to justify paying the price of a four-year university when your student won’t get the university experience.

“They’re asking me, literally, why pay full tuition to sit at home and watch videos,” Firat said, of his clients. “This is a really big deal for them, especially from a financial standpoint, as well as an operational standpoint. They don’t want to commit to $40,000 to $80,000 dollars a year just to sit at home and do online learning.”

Firat even suggested students explore the option of a “structured gap year”--where they make a commitment to a university, pay the enrollment deposit, but take their first year off from college to do other projects or interests, like study a foreign language, learn a musical instrument or pursue a community service project.

“The structured gap year through the institution of your choice is going to also help you save money for the first year and your enrollment is guaranteed next year if the college agrees to go with your structured gap year option,” he explained.

If a structured gap year sounds like something your senior may be interested in, there are actually companies that work directly with students to help them select a project to work on during their gap year.

Go Abroad

Gap Year Association