Prepping for College in the age of COVID (Quad Press-Nov. 2020)

If there’s one word, besides COVID, that defines 2020, it’s uncertainty.

Though the COVID-19 storm is still brewing, life marches forward, including school and a student’s journey to college. Last year’s high-school seniors finished their school-year in a very different time due to the COVID pandemic, and the 2020/2021 seniors will be no different. But as colleges are shifting plans and expectations to weather the storm. Your student and your family can, too. 

Angela Law and Heather Trettel, both School Counselor’s at Centennial High School, said seniors are coming in and still asking the general questions; how to apply, where, what major. “There’s no frame of reference,” explained Trettel, “they don’t understand yet. It’s going to be different. But it’ll be their experience. It’ll be super different than when you and I went to college.”

Law said for seniors to embrace the changes, but also know that some things are stable. “Things are changing every day, but there are constancies, too,” she said, “You can still apply online. You still have to look at admission requirements. A lot of school are test optional now and doing a wholistic approach.” Both counselors stress to take advantage of the virtual visits; the college rep that visit the school, and, a college and career readiness web-based portfolio. Centennial also has a full-time Career Center Specialist (Leslye Erzberger), who is there to help students every step of the way. They stress to remember deadlines. And by all means, fill out the FAFSA form – Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Centennial Mother and Lino Lakes resident, Julie Lindgren Frank knows this three times over. Her triplets are all in their senior year and the family is learning together how to navigate applying for college’s during a pandemic, as well as finish up a hybrid-learning senior year. “We’re trying our best considering the state of life and three completely different lives,” she said, “All plans went out the window right at the time we were going to get serious in our (college) search. That unfortunately resulted in a few visits (sports related) to no visits due to restrictions.” Like a lot of families, she said they have been trying to embrace the virtual tours, but they’ve been tricky. “It’s been difficult to impossible to spark interest in virtual tours,” she said. “Best we’ve done with visits, outside of sports, is driving through some empty campuses to try and get a feel for the atmosphere,” said Frank.

Trettel agreed that virtual tours can be challenging. She said Naviance is trying to help with this, as well as college’s coming up with their own ideas. “I had a student who went down to see a school in Iowa, and she had a tour app on her phone, and was able to take her own tour,” she explained. “There’s nothing like being on the campus, and I would still tell kids, don’t commit as a student until you walk the campus, see what the community is like. Those things are super important. Even though it’s during COVID, they still have to live there.”

And how about the big question in a time of uncertainty – money. “Stay the course,” stresses David Purdy, Founder and CEO of Wealth Management Midwest in Forest Lake, MN.,  “This is called a ‘K shape” recovery, as opposed to a V. Part of the K is going down, industries such as food, restaurant, airlines, but you do have an upside,” he said. “Bike sales are up 81%. RV sales are up. Boats and motors, those sales are off the charts.” He said not all industries are suffering, but if your family had an income change, due to COVID or something else, be sure to inform the school when you’re researching financial aid options.

Purdy’s philosophy is to look at all the options with what works for your family at any given time. “If you’re needing the money within 36-46 months, don’t run the risk of putting it into the market”, he said, “rather, perhaps open a 529 while your child is still young, perhaps 9 or 10”.

Even if parents are behind the eight ball in timing, Purdy said not to panic. There are options out there and experts to help you along the way.  “If you can do it, saving something for education makes a lot of sense,” he explains, “I don’t think that (idea) should be abandoned”. He and the Centennial counselors both agreed to do your due diligence on researching financial aid options that are a fit for your family.

Every student and their circumstance is different. Helping your student keep their eye on the big picture and stay organized, even during a pandemic, will help.  

“We will continue the process,” said Frank, “And hopefully by decision time, pray there’s more certainty and clarity about the future.”    

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