College, career and COVID

Q:  My daughter was just accepted early decision to the school of her dreams (which shall remain nameless for the purposes of this column).  She is nervous about starting college in the middle of a pandemic.  With vaccines on the horizon, we are encouraging her to move forward.  She struggles with anxiety so this pandemic has escalated many of her concerns.

What are most students considering about returning to a college in 2021?  Or starting college in 2021?  Can we say that yes, we accept but only if the college has returned to in-person instruction?  How will this impact her career upon graduation?

A:  Congratulations on your daughter’s acceptance.  Pandemic or not, this is a significant achievement!

The pandemic has certainly disrupted many of our lives, and higher education has had to re-evaluate how they teach and engage students.  Many students are learning via remote technologies.  Many students (and faculty!) are eager to return to a campus and a classroom.

Post-graduation, I think many employers will understand that students endured many challenges in 2020.  Employers will understand this as they are grappling with a wide range of challenges in 2020 as well.  Some have had to furlough or lay off employees.  Some have had to move employees out of the office or workplace and offer remote work opportunities.  While others have had to shut their doors and discontinue operations.

Jon Carson, CEO of College Guidance Network, offers this suggestion to your daughter: “Except for the top 15 most selective colleges, almost all schools are seeing a decline in their applicant pools.  This means that you, as the customer, have more bargaining power.  These are not small sums the schools are charging.  I would advise reaching out to the school in question and have a frank discussion.  This is ultimately a negotiation and you have more leverage than ever before.”

Some students are hopeful that, with widespread availability of a vaccine, that fall 2021 may offer students a more of a pre-pandemic, face-to-face experience.  However, it is wise to think about different options now.  Some students have asked for a deferral of a semester or one year.  Some students are considering online options at other universities, which may be more cost-effective.

I agree with Carson.  Reach out.  Engage in a conversation with the admissions counselor.  It is important that they understand your concerns.  Ultimately you want this to be a positive experience for your daughter.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.