COVID-19 has left some college-bound high school seniors wondering what their college life might look like--here's how to encourage them

7 support strategies for incoming freshmen during COVID-19

COVID-19 has left some college-bound high school seniors wondering what their college life might look like--here's how to reassure them

Although COVID-19 has disrupted education for everyone, college-bound high school seniors have seen pronounced disruption in both the abrupt end to their senior year–an end without milestones or fanfare–and in the uncertainty surrounding the beginning of their college experience. Some enrolled in the fall, and others were forced to delay a semester due to COVID-related complications.

New Eduventures research sheds light on the best ways to support high school seniors as they prepare to complete their first–and very unexpected–year of higher education.

Sixty-three percent of surveyed students say the COVID-19 crisis has influenced their college choice, but 54 percent also say they are very certain that their choice is right for them.

High school students say they’re extremely concerned about: the loss of high school events and activities (67 percent), graduating from high school on time (55 percent), maintaining an in-person connection to friends (51 percent), and the duration of social distancing (49 percent).

Students seem especially worried about their families–60 percent are moderately or extremely concerned about their family financial situation changing, while 64 percent are worried about the impact of illness on their family. Fifty-six percent of students are moderately or extremely concerned about COVID-19 delaying their college enrollment.

The report offers 7 suggestions to help support college-bound high school seniors:

1. Be a calm voice for families. A barometer of the current climate shows that students are worried, but not necessarily panicking. The communication style that institutions adopt is critical. Chief among considerations is that institutions offer a steady and calming source of support and information for students as they transition from high school to college.

2. Put students first. Students are enduring significant loss in their high school lives; colleges must place themselves in this context. A critical component of communication is for institutions to acknowledge the loss that students are feeling as they go through this difficult time. But do so within context. Colleges should make a concerted effort not to place their needs above those of students.

3. Stay the course on message. Students worry about paying for college or delaying enrollment, but changing their choice is not in the cards for many. The most pressing concern for students is whether or not they will have to delay their enrollment, either by their own volition or because of circumstances beyond their control. Institutions should reinforce the strong value proposition that prompted students to choose the institution.

4. Be virtual far beyond the visit. Institutions should prioritize virtual opportunities for students to get to know the institution. Students want to understand the curriculum and learn student life, financial aid, and career outcomes most of all. They want to do so with varying degree of interactivity. A virtual campus visit is not top-of-mind content as they think about assessing fit. As you build out virtual opportunities for students to assess fit, keep in mind these most important needs.

5. Supercharge melt strategies. The risk of melt is from delayed enrollment more so than currently changing choice; but this could still change. Students have a high level of concern that their enrollment may be delayed. If that delay is realized–either because the student cannot afford to attend immediately or institutions cannot bring students to campus in the fall–we will see more students considering a change of enrollment choice. Institutions elevate melt strategies to be in rich communication with deposited students.

6. Strike the right tone and communicate with communities in appropriate ways. Reaction to COVID-19 involves a complex interplay of regional infection severity and sociopolitical affiliations. The reaction to COVID-19 as an influence on college choice is complex.

7. Develop financial aid strategies for students who have experienced economic loss. Students who have already experienced job loss have a high expectation of delaying their college enrollment. The special segment of student who have already experienced economic loss due to COVID-19 requires specific outreach. What financial aid resources has your institution identified to help these students? How can you make sure that student in difficult circumstances are aware of the resources available to help them?

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Laura Ascione