VP of Enrollment Tells High School Seniors, Don’t Delay Attending College

It’s crunch time for college applications and just like every other part of a high school student’s life, applying to college has been drastically impacted by COVID

Members of the class of 2024, making their final college choices as the pandemic swept across the country, responded in different ways. Many went ahead with their original plans.

Some pivoted to a university offering remote education at a lower cost to save money while learning from home. And others decided to defer their college plans for a year, in the hope that 2021 would offer more clarity and perhaps a return to normal — two things that still seem several months away. 

Research shows that putting off college can make it harder to complete a degree. (Twenty20 @andreafwagner)

Even under normal circumstances, the college selection process is overwhelming

The college selection process can be overwhelming even when we’re not dealing with the disruptions related to a pandemic, and it may be tempting in these stressful times to press pause on a college degree. However, I urge students to move ahead with their plans instead of waiting for what may seem like a better time to enroll.

Research has shown that those who pause or delay their education are considerably less likely to complete their degree and will see lower lifetime earnings. Most colleges and universities understand the many challenges facing students during the pandemic—the impact switching to virtual learning may have had on GPAs, the lack of test scores, new or increased financial concerns — and will take them into consideration during the admissions process.

As we look ahead to fall 2021, there are signs that it will be very different from 2020, thanks largely to successful vaccine development. However, while there is hope that a vaccine will be distributed before the class of 2025 begins their college careers, options for visiting campuses and assessing their fit are limited and will be through the spring. So how can students and their families know that they’re making a smart choice for their higher education?

How can students make wise choices about the colleges they attend?

As a vice president for enrollment at a small liberal arts college in Illinois, I often speak to students and families grappling with these difficult decisions. Here are some questions that can be helpful in making a sound college choice:

  • How is the institution interacting with students? Is everything automated or is there individual outreach and an effort to get to know the student personally?
  • Are there opportunities to connect with current students in an authentic, transparent way —to ask “the tough questions”?
  • Are there opportunities to speak with faculty outside of a standard virtual visit? 
  • Is there follow-up on a student’s expressed interests — from the admissions office, faculty, coaches, other students?
  • Are there efforts to build a relationship even before the student matriculates?
  • How did the institution respond to COVID? Was the institution’s response student-centered and in line with its professed core values? 

Once you answer these questions you can make your college decision

Once students and families have answers to these questions, it’s time to make some decisions. While we often talk about personal connection or “fit,” it’s important to keep in mind that college is a significant investment of money and time for students and families.

There is a lot of data available and I encourage you to look at each school’s metrics like graduation rates, average indebtedness, job, and graduate school placement rates, and average starting salaries in addition to academic programs, student-faculty ratios, and other information. 

Colleges and universities understand the uncertainty that students and their families are feeling and the stress associated with trying to plan for a fall that feels so far away. They understand that students’ grades, test scores, and activities may have been impacted by COVID and a switch to remote learning.

They’re eager to understand the challenges students have faced, to answer as many questions as they can, and to help students find the right place to continue their education. I encourage students to take advantage of every opportunity they have to get to know our institutions.

And I wish the class of 2025 every success.

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About LeAnn Hughes

LeAnn Hughes is vice president of enrollment and marketing at Illinois Wesleyan University, where she took on oversight of reorganized admissions, financial aid, marketing and communications functions at the University in 2016.

Prior to joining Illinois Wesleyan, Hughes was vice president of enrollment and marketing at Tusculum College in Greeneville, Tenn., and at King University in Bristol, Tenn. She earned a bachelor of arts in English at the University of Tennessee, where she was initiated into Phi Beta Kappa, and received her master of arts in English at East Tennessee State University. She is mom to one son, four dogs, and – when she needs to get away from it all – enjoys pool floating, kayaking and tennis. You can find her at Twitter or LinkedIn

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