Supporting College-Bound Seniors During COVID-19

As we approach the end of an unpredictable school year, we applaud you and all the other educators who stepped up to meet the needs of their students, staff, and families during the COVID-19 crisis. Your efforts and dedication have been truly amazing. 

One of the many unanticipated events this year has been the suspension of state accountability. Even though all schools and districts will be labeled “Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster,” it is imperative that school leaders continue to focus on postsecondary plans for the class of 2020.

Studies show that many graduating seniors may not continue on with their college enrollment plans for fall due to the pandemic. Some of these findings, summarized in Inside Higher Ed, are devastating:

  • In April, 10 percent of college-bound seniors who had planned to enroll at a four-year college before the COVID-19 outbreak said they have already made alternative plans.
  • In March, 14 percent of college students said they were unlikely to return to their current college or university in the fall, or it was "too soon to tell." Exactly three weeks later, in mid-April, that figure had gone up to 26 percent – a 12-point increase in just three weeks!
  • More students may end up taking a gap year. While this is hard to track, there are estimates that 3 percent of freshmen take a gap year in normal circumstances. Since the pandemic, internet searches for gap years have skyrocketed.

Taking proactive steps to help students realize their postsecondary ambitions is more important than ever. Having intentional programming over the summer will be crucial for many students in this year’s graduating class. 

What can we do? 

Consider implementing some of the following strategies for the summer of 2020.

1) Expand Students’ Group of Mentors

Allow for senior teachers, counselors, and administrators to reach out to seniors to see what their plans are for August – many might have changed following COVID-19. Create mentors for groups of students and have these mentors continue to stay in touch until the fall semester begins.

It is important for your staff to have access to up-to-date information on college registration, financial aid, and more. Fortunately, the Texas OnCourse Academy provides just that. You should also encourage your staff to regularly review our COVID-19 resource pages for students and educators.

2) Communicate Financial Aid Opportunities

Offer virtual financial aid events to support students on the FAFSA and the TASFA this summer. Some students may have changes in economic need or estimated family contribution. Share resources to help students appeal financial aid decisions. For example, SwiftStudent helps students request additional aid, and the Federal Student Aid COVID-19 page has information on federal aid.

3) Update and Provide New Resources Related to COVID-19

We have developed and curated a number of new college and career planning resources for students and educators. You should also consider additional resources your campus or district may need. Create online communities – our new free toolkit has tips for doing so – and host virtual seminars for families and students. Keep them connected to support throughout the summer, as many of these resources will be specific to COVID-19 opportunities.

4) Monitor College Application Needs

Ensure that counselors and/or college advisers have ApplyTexas accounts created and updated. This will allow them to see where students are in the college application submission process. It’s especially important if students are exploring new or different higher education institutions and options.

5) Connect Continuously

Foster relationships with this graduating class – these students have been with your campus faculty for a long time. They trust your support, encouragement, and knowledge to help guide them as they pursue this phase after high school graduation.  

Texas OnCourse Support 

Staff Support 

Are you planning professional development for your staff in a completely different way now? We have developed a remote PD Toolkit to help school leaders deliver engaging, comprehensive online professional development on college, career, and military readiness through the Texas OnCourse Academy.

Also, check out our latest COVID-19 related updates on topics such as handling graduation, virtual teaching and learning tools, and planning for the fall with our Educator blog

Student Support 

In light of our sudden transition to online learning, we’ve created a short video you can share with students and your staff that are directly supporting your seniors: 5 Quick Tips for the Class of 2020.

Additional Resources for Educators and Students

Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB)

Use this resource for continued updates on higher education and the effects of COVID-19: http://www.thecb.state.tx.us/misc/coronavirus-update-for-higher-education/.

ADVi – The Virtual Advising Project

ADVi is a resource for any Texas student or potential student with questions about college. ADVi is available 24/7 and can answer many general questions about applying to college, the financial aid process (including FAFSA), and college readiness: https://www.askadvi.org/counselors/.

This blog was written by Texas OnCourse staff in collaboration with the Region 13 Education Service Center’s Accountability Team.

Topics: College Planning, Administrators, Coronavirus, Distance Counseling