College admissions & online learning during COVID-19
Table of contents:
- Online learning options during COVID-19
- Make the most of online learning during the coronavirus pandemic
- How to achieve your college admissions goals during the pandemic
- What COVID-19 means for incoming freshmen in Fall 2020
- How COVID-19 affects student financial aid
- ACT & SAT score exemptions and AP credit for 2020 exams
The novel coronavirus and its resulting respiratory disease, known as COVID-19, has caused a worldwide pandemic and widespread economic disruption as businesses, organizations, and whole cities shut down, while people in every country are required to self-quarantine and shelter in place. One major side effect of this unprecedented situation has been to disrupt primary, secondary, and higher education. Universities everywhere have canceled classes or moved to online learning for the rest of the academic year, and sent students home where they can. Others are providing living assistance to students who are forced to remain in student housing, either because they are unable to travel, don’t want to risk exposing themselves or others to the virus, or just plain don’t have anywhere else to go.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is creating incredible challenges for students already attending university, it poses equal concerns for students who are planning to begin college in the fall. The ongoing health crisis, quarantine extensions, travel bans, and the possibility of further waves of infection have created lots of uncertainty for current university students, graduating high school seniors, and even juniors planning to apply to college for Fall 2021. Not to mention international students, who may not be able to travel to or leave the United States due to the pandemic.
The crisis has created doubt and uncertainty for everyone, but widespread internet access and technologies for online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic have created possibilities for continuing education that would not have existed if this had occurred twenty or even ten years ago. Mass adoption of video conferencing, remote work, and distance learning have made it possible for many businesses to remain open, and for many students to continue their education, even while quarantined at home.
At My College Guide, we are dedicated to helping you continue your education, no matter what challenges life might throw your way. So we’ve created this comprehensive guide to these new issues confronting students for meeting their college admissions goals, applying to college, and online learning options for those already in college, still in the planning stages, going back to school, or who just want to continue learning during these difficult times.
If you are starting or continuing college in the fall, you might be wondering how campus closures and class cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic might affect your academic plan. We are very lucky to be living in a time when online learning has become common, even before the current health crisis. Students are still able to earn college class credits and satisfy many of their general education requirements, and even major courses through distance learning platforms offered by their school. Even if your university remains closed in the fall, you may be able to continue your education as planned without ever attending a physical class.
For many, this is far less ideal than learning in a classroom with the instructor and other students present. Studies have shown that certain types of courses function far better for imparting knowledge and bolstering skills in person rather than online. Learning online creates other difficulties as well, such as internet connectivity or difficulty in using or managing technological tools. However, if you remain focused and dedicated to your education, you can still succeed in spite of these challenges.
Strategies and best practices for online learning
With so many universities canceling physical classes and turning to online teaching, it’s important that students are prepared to get the most out of learning sessions on digital platforms. This may be as simple as your professor giving lectures over Zoom or another video conferencing platform, and distributing and accepting assignments via email. In some cases, your university may have fully integrated online platforms which allow professors to manage their entire student cohort’s distance learning. Whatever your college’s particular setup might be, make sure you are equipped with these best strategies for learning at a distance.
Keep your workspace neat and organized
They say that a messy desk is the sign of a genius, but most of us aren’t geniuses. If you are, you can skip this step. For the rest of us, having a neat, organized workspace will help you keep focused on your online class session or task.
Make sure your learning area is free of distractions
Barking dogs, screaming children, annoying siblings, cars and people in the street outside, televisions, radios, oh my! Do your best to reduce outside noise and distractions so you can concentrate. Studies show that even if you don’t think you are distracted by these things, they can tax your mental processes and prevent you from doing your best online learning.
Show up on time, prepared and ready to learn
Just like your professor would expect in the real world, you have to show up on time to the online classroom. Even though we’re all working from home these days, being tardy still counts against you in a college class. Make sure when class starts that you’re connected, your notebook is open, textbook ready, and those pesky social media tabs closed.
Ask questions and participate in online learning platforms
Learning online requires an extra degree of participation from everyone. In a physical classroom, we have the benefit of looking our teacher in the eye, or turning to a classmate to ask a question. Distance learning means that everyone is looking into a camera or watching a grid of other people, muting and unmuting, cameras on and off. Keep on top of what’s happening in whatever chat or messaging system you are using, pay attention to what the instructor says, and speak up respectfully, just like you would in a real classroom, even though now it means pushing that unmute button at the right time.
Stay in contact with other students and the instructor
It’s easy to feel out of touch or disconnected without the benefit of face to face contact with our classmates and teachers on a daily basis. Make sure you stay in touch via email or your distance learning platform so that you don’t miss anything. Also so that anyone can reach you if they need your help.
Augment your learning with online resources
Online learning is becoming more and more common as technology and internet access improves globally. In 2020, there are countless online resources to draw on in order to further your formal education, learn about topics which interest you, and enhance your understanding of academic subjects. You can even earn certificates from some of these courses. Keep reading below for more ideas on your options for online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Online learning platforms, courses, and educational resources
Online education has been somewhat clunky in the recent past, but with rapidly improving technology and more resources being dedicated to digital learning, especially due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are many fantastic online teaching and learning options available today. Here is just a short list of some of the best online learning platforms:
Probably the most well-known online learning site, Khan Academy has been in operation since 2008. Salman Khan, the founder of the platform, wanted to create a set of online tools to help educate students in conjunction with their regular studies. Khan Academy’s main focus is on helping teachers and parents to augment childhood learning, primary and secondary education, but they also offer a wide variety of lessons on just about every subject imaginable, from math and science to literature, philosophy, and history.
The University of California at Berkeley is one of the highest-rated universities in the United States, and now you can take or audit many of their top-notch courses online for free. BerkeleyX is UC Berkeley’s contribution to the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) movement, and forms part of the edX organization, a platform dedicated to providing a wide variety of online education options for people from all walks of life. edX will even help you connect with what are known as “Micro Bachelor’s” degrees or online master’s programs.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) needs no introduction, being well known as one of the top universities in the world. MIT was one of the first to jump on the online education bandwagon with their Open Courseware platform, an initiative to make materials used for teaching MIT’s subjects available on the web. You can check out courses on everything from political science to linear algebra or quantum physics.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges large and small for people all over the world, and college students have been no less affected. While learning online is no substitute for many real world learning environments, there is still a lot to be gained from continuing education in the digital realm. Even if the pandemic clears up sooner rather than later, the situation has created huge disruptions in every industry, education included. Distance learning may become a key aspect of the new normal as we adapt to a post-pandemic world, and taking more online courses along with real-world classes is going to form a larger part of higher education no matter what happens.
Students who have applied but not yet received an acceptance letter
High school juniors and seniors who have submitted applications to their top schools and are still waiting for an acceptance letter are understandably nervous. You might be wondering if you will even be able to travel in the fall, let alone begin classes with other students at a new school. Your school’s admissions counselors may have the answers you need to put your mind at ease. We recommend reaching out to them and asking what their plans are for incoming freshmen in Fall 2020. There is a good chance that they already have contingency plans in place for any scenario, coronavirus or no.
Schools are re-evaluating their offerings of online classes and improving their distance learning capabilities, regardless of whether or not the COVID-19 pandemic is still a major issue in the fall. There is growing recognition of the benefits (and drawbacks) of distance learning in a world where internet access is almost ubiquitous, and learning or working from home is fast becoming the new normal for many professionals, teachers and students. Do your research on the online learning capabilities of your top schools, so when those acceptance letters start rolling in, you can make an informed decision about which of them might be best to begin your college career with, if you have to do it at a distance.
Students who are still applying or thinking about applying to college
Spring break is the most popular time for high school juniors to visit prospective colleges, but when March and April 2020 rolled around, the pandemic was already in full swing. Young people and their families looking forward to road trips and campus tours found themselves sheltering in place instead of enjoying this time-honored tradition. Luckily for them, virtual college visits are now available from many schools, and COVID-19 or no, you can still take an online tour of many top universities from the comfort of your own home.
Remember, demonstrated interest is an important factor for many admissions offices when reviewing applications. Admissions officers have said they are of course taking into consideration that, because of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s impossible for students to visit their campus in person. However, schools often operate mailing lists, online forums, or social media accounts where prospective students can interact with current students, alumni, faculty and staff. Not all schools track applicant participation in these channels, but many do. If you’re really serious about applying to a university, make sure to sign up for any email lists or online communications so they can see you’re really interested in going there, and to increase your own knowledge of the school. Also, how you adapt to the pandemic may be a factor in character evaluation for some schools, and showing resilience in the face of adversity could go a long way towards bolstering your application.
Community college is a great choice for many students, especially those lacking the financial resources to pay for their entire undergraduate education at a four-year institution. In the age of COVID-19, staying close to home might seem like a much better option than before, even if you were planning on a full four-year college career at one school. High school graduates can complete their general education requirements at a local community college, and might discover other options for studies they might like to major in that they hadn’t considered before. After completing your first two years of studies, credits can be transferred to a four-year institution, often much more easily than applying for freshmen admission as a high school senior.
If you’re considering taking a gap year, or taking additional time to evaluate your options before deciding which schools to apply to, the pandemic gives you the perfect excuse. According to reports from health organizations, it may be well into 2021 before it’s safe to resume normal activities. This pandemic is still a very recent development, and we are all learning more every day. The coming weeks and months will bring a wealth of new information with which to make your decision about applying to college.
Even if you’ve already been accepted to one or more schools, the status of universities being open in the fall is by no means a sure thing. Most have said that they have tentative plans to open classes as usual for the fall semester. However, nobody knows what will happen between now and then. There may be a second wave of COVID-19 infections, in which case schools will likely be forced to delay or even cancel class sessions.
Many schools have also postponed their deadlines for making tuition deposits, so if you’re undecided about accepting an offer, or waiting to see how the situation will develop in the coming weeks, you may have an additional window. Check with your school’s admissions office to find out how they are handling deadlines and orientations for newly admitted students.
Freshmen orientations have also been affected, along with events such as alumni or faculty meet and greets. Schools may be holding these and similar events online, so check with your admissions office to see if these can be attended virtually. Many universities were already offering virtual college visits before the coronavirus pandemic, so these kinds of offerings may be readily available on your college’s website.
How the coronavirus will affect your financial aid package will depend in large part on your individual college or university. It’s doubtful that any school would deny, withdraw, reduce, or take any other negative action against any financial aid package that has already been offered, accepted, or already in use by a student to cover their tuition, education, and living expenses.
However, considering that many schools have canceled classes or delayed sessions, the timing of delivery of financial aid payments may be affected. Financial aid is typically distributed in concordance with class sessions, so your payment may be delayed or otherwise rescheduled following changes to your school’s academic calendar. As in all cases, we recommend reaching out to your school’s financial aid office to get information specific to your college and your specific situation.
If your living situation is tied to financial aid, i.e. you live in student housing, or rely on financial aid to pay your rent or buy food, it is critically important that you have up to date information on how your aid package might be affected by the pandemic. Contact your financial aid counselor immediately to see if there is any action you should take to make sure that your health and wellbeing are not adversely impacted by any changes in funding delivery that may occur.
While universities have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, K-12 and secondary education (high schools) have also been closed down across the country and around the world. High school students who have been unable to sit for their ACT or SAT exams have gotten some relief for college applications, as many schools have announced that they are exempting applicants from the ACT and/or SAT requirement for Fall 2020 incoming freshmen or Fall 2021 applications. If you have been unable to take either exam and are worried about what it might mean for college admissions, contact the admissions offices of your top schools and ask how they are handling exam scores, if you haven’t received guidelines from them already.
In addition, you might be asking yourself, will colleges accept AP credit for 2020 exams? Rest assured that, as long as your high school is still able to administer 2020 exams, your AP credit won’t go to waste. If your school’s ability to proctor AP exams has been impacted by the pandemic, they may offer makeup exams in the summer or fall when restrictions have been relaxed. Check with your high school’s academic counseling office and find out what their situation is in regards to administering AP exams and transmitting scores to colleges.
While we all wait to see what will happen in the second half of 2020, you can get ahead of the game by accessing the college’s online resources and finding out what you can do bolster learning in the meantime. If you are still applying or waiting for acceptance, you can participate with your preferred school’s online presence, or maybe even take some of their digital courses online for free. Check out other websites like edX or Khan Academy, and see what else you might be interested in learning. Who knows, you might even discover something new and fascinating to study that you hadn’t even thought of before. Just because we’re in a worldwide lockdown and nobody can say for sure what will happen in the next few months, doesn’t mean that you have to stop educating yourself.
Check out some of our resources, such as our online college page, and get started with online learning today!