CLEVELAND — The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way students are learning this year, and for the class of 2021, it's also changing how they’re preparing for college.
Jowan Smith, the founder and CEO of local college prep consulting firm Getting Our Babies to College 101, said seniors are navigating uncharted territory. Her advice to both students and parents is to expect the unexpected.
One challenge for students this year is restrictions on on-campus visits due to coronavirus concerns.
“A lot of that is virtual, and that presents a challenge for a lot of people because you actually need to be there so you can see what it's like,” Smith said.
Another big change has to do with testing.
The National Association for College Admission Testing said 1,450 colleges and universities, including Ohio State University, are moving to a test-optional admission policy due to the cancellation of SAT and ACT testing dates nationwide.
Just two weeks ago, the College Board announced that nearly half of the 402,000 students due to take the SAT on Aug. 29 could not due to coronavirus-related closures.
But Smith said think twice before skipping the test because those scores factor into consideration for merit-based scholarships.
“Testing is still a thing you should do because that determines how much scholarship dollars you get so I tell parents just because they say that, you know, testing is optional, you still should take the ACT and SAT,” Smith said.
Those scholarships could come in handy for many families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a new report from College Ave, more than half (53%) of families surveyed said the pandemic has negatively affected their finances. Also - in June, 53% of parents said their kids will use student loans to cover college costs, compared to 42% in January.
Smith said use the extra time you have while social distancing to hunt down financial aid.
“Now that we're home and you're on a computer all day this is the time to do the research and find those extra scholarship dollars because there are a lot of dollars out,” Smith said.
With so many going through financial hardship this year, Smith suggested also looking into other options besides four-year schools.
“Go to community college at least until we see what's going on with the pandemic, you know, get your prerequisites out of the way. You go to Tri-C or, you know, Lorain Community- any of these community colleges, it's a lot less expensive than going away to a four-year school,” Smith said.
Despite the unknowns, Smith said one thing the class of 2021 has that the class of 2020 didn’t is time to prepare. So she suggested families get started with college prep early so they don’t fall behind.
Download the News 5 Cleveland app now for more stories from us, plus alerts on major news, the latest weather forecast, traffic information and much more. Download now on your Apple device here, and your Android device here.