NEW YORK — For college students nationwide, it’s been an academic year interrupted. Now, they’re facing an uncertain fall semester as well.
Returning students, as well as graduating high school seniors on the cusp of starting their college careers, may have tough decisions to make in the weeks or months ahead.
PIX11 spoke with friends Alvaro Barrera and Annika Goldman.
Barrera, who hails from Monterey, Mexico, is a sophomore at NYU, studying fashion business.
Goldman, from Princeton, N.J., is a freshman at USC, majoring in communications and minoring in marine biology and theater.
“American education is so expensive and I learn so much better when I’m right there with the teacher,” said Goldman. ”I don’t feel like I’m getting my bang for my buck for the education.”
Since the nation shut down in March, classes have moved online. “I’m not going to be able to learn as well online,” added Barrera.
Without a reliable and effective vaccine, it’s looking more and more like colleges and universities will continue with remote learning or a hybrid of in-class and virtual classes. Both parents and students may be hesitant to spend the full tuition amount on virtual classes. Families may also feel it unsafe to return to a densely populated campus, where a virus can easily spread.
”I think if classes are online I’m definitely taking a gap semester or potentially a gap year,” said Barrera.
He’s not alone. One option many students are interested in is requesting a gap year. A gap year allows a student to spend the time outside of a traditional academic environment, while learning at the same time. They maintain their spot at the school, while committing to working, volunteering or traveling. Depending on the college or university, a gap year is granted under a standard process or a case-by-case basis.
Given the crisis, it’s expected most schools will grant a gap year request. However, you may still have to pay a deposit to hold your spot.
College advisor Chet Jordan, an assistant professor at CUNY Guttman Community College, says there are alternatives to just waiting for class to resume.
“Maybe they will consider going someplace a little closer to home until the dust settles,” said Jordan. “Community colleges are incredibly versatile and have always been responsive to prosperous times and even more responsive in times of crisis.”
Taking classes either virtually or in-person at a far less expensive community college could mean students earn credits that can possibly roll over to a 4-year school. Whether the credits roll over depends on each school. However, if you have committed to a gap year, most institutions do not allow you to take classes elsewhere.
”Community colleges serve our local communities and have an enormous investment in advising and teaching students from multiple pathways out of college if they’re trying to earn credits during this time, while they’re closer to home,” adds Jordan.
During the financial crisis of 2008, there was a surge in community college enrollment. That may happen this year and next.
“Community college enrollment tends to spike during economic downturns,” adds Jordan. “When people need to go back to college as a job market shrinks.”
College acceptance letters were sent out to students at the beginning of this month. For those trying to decide whether to start their college career, it may come down to the cost.
Attorney and author David Bloomfield, a professor of education at Brooklyn College the CUNY Graduate Center, says during this crisis everything is negotiable but families need to do it early and be their own best advocate.
“You can negotiate for everything. The colleges are in a crunch. They need the money; they also need the enrollment,” said Bloomfield. “It’s a buyers market to some degree.”
If the schools remain shut down, a refund for room and board is a certainty. However, for students who may have paid a deposit, how much you get back is based on the policy of each college.
”Students have a little bit of time, but the clock is ticking, particularly when it comes to financial aid,” said Bloomfield. “They need to be making some decisions and requests now before the schools financial aid accounts are depleted.”
First, students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly referred to as the FAFSA form. The figures from your parents’ prior year tax return is required. If you have a financial change due to the COVID-19 shutdown, the next step is to immediately contact each school directly and notify them of your change in circumstances.
Keep in mind, if you defer acceptance, you may have to reapply for aid next year.
Lastly, be diligent and thorough in researching any additional scholarships or grants available you can apply for.
“Students and parents need to call the school and see what you can get in terms of financial aid,” advises Bloomfield. “In terms of any negotiation tuition reduction, be assertive, be aggressive.
Goldman has already paid for off-campus housing and her deposit is non-refundable.
“Your four years in college are to have this amazing opportunity to learn whatever you want, to really grow as a person and to meet new people and expand your horizons,” Goldman. “With the uncertain future not knowing, are we going back to school till January or until there’s a vaccine, it’s really scary to think that some of these precious years are being stolen from us.”
Many college students nationwide, grappling with how the coronavirus pandemic has and may continue to affect their studies.