Keep Calm and College On…managing the college process during a pandemic

Text from a college student realizing that her semester was over.

“Her graduation is cancelled.”—University of Michigan Dad

“His State Championship run is done.”—local high school

They will never perform.”—local school band concert

My girl is coming home.”—Boston Mom

He has to drive back to get his books and finish semester here.”—UVA on Spring Break

“Pulled them off the court mid-match and cancelled her tennis season.” —OSU/MSU match


My phone is full of emotions as the new normal for students takes hold.  They begin with financial questions, course questions, logistical questions, transition to emotional statements, and end with emojis.  What will be missed in unrealized moments both little and big?

On Thursday, my colleagues and I were meant to speak to a group of Michigan college admission professionals.  The title I chose months ago took on a whole new meaning: “The Mindful Counselor Puts on Their Own Oxygen Mask First.”  As the mask debate continues surrounding the coronavirus, it is important practice self care to stay grounded as both educators and students in what we can control. I really wanted to present.  Our panel had created amazing slides! Hundreds of hours were spent by the conference committee prepping for the annual MACAC conference, yet it had to be cancelled. 

Many students are in mourning for what could have been. As campuses close, some for the spring semester, others until April 6th, and graduations are cancelled, college students feel ripped from their social life and the opportunity to achieve academic, extracurricular and personal goals.  They have unknowns about housing, finances, and options

High school students share these feelings. Our Michigan governor mandated that all schools remain closed for three weeks.  Winter sports seasons are suspended and spring seasons cancelled.  Performances, exhibitions, competitions etc are tabled.  Students are left to wonder so many things including will there be prom this year? 

Parents of college students are frustrated and not sure what to advise. Should they encourage their child to return home if dorms remain open?  What about impacts to their own schedules and finances? What technology will students require to complete courses already paid for? The answers vary based on the college, the student and the resources of the family.

Parents of high school students share in the questioning of next best steps.  They also share in the disappointment of seemingly everything being canceled. We all do. 

We all need to move forward, NOW.

This entire situation is unprecedented, but we still have a future to look forward to and plan for even though everyone, including NCAA star MSU basketball coach Tom Izzo, aren’t sure exactly what to do next.

Colleges continue to adjust

College admission offices are transitioning to work online while making final application decisions. They are attempting to predict enrollment numbers based on unknowns as they look for ways to contribute to curbing the virus.  Canceling campus visit programs, college fairs and moving deposit deadlines from May 1st to June 1st are just a few ways colleges are beginning to respond.  They are also sharing information, acting like rival business helping each other make their numbers! It is powerful and unprecedented. They are creating options such as suggesting how they can exercise funding of students depending on financial aid.

How will ACT and SAT dates be impacted?  How is each college managing their new normal and how will that impact our applicants and current college students’ options?  Here is where I pause and feel good.  My profession has been sharing information nonstop and helping each other understand how to best support students.

As answers continue to evolve, like the NCAA giving spring athletes another year of eligibility , we can be united in our response by considering:

Perspective—Listen to each other and stay based in reality.  Acknowledge that this is not fair. Own feelings of disappointment.  Consider what you can do to improve our world by sharing your resources.  This is the time for great ideas to emerge, not for curling up and fretting.  I fully expect one of the young ones to lead our recovery from all of this.

Prepare—Without panic—Talk about the  “what if’s” and possible solutions to show that there are answers. Then act on them calmly.

Choose reliable sources—Limit exposure to information. Do not spend hours scrolling through feeds. Draw conclusions and make decisions based on facts. Only read what is necessary, schools and programs will tell your family what you need to know, so don’t stress.

Do NOT Isolate—This is a tough one.  Although we are losing the joy of being together at events and on campus, push yourself to find a new normal seeing each other online.  Screen up! Order an inexpensive monitor and attach it to your phone or computer to see each other larger than life. Create huge fun video group chat dance parties!  Try out Zoom or other free platforms.  Adults may need to push out of their technology comfort zones for this.  I DO! It is a great way to connect with our more tech savvy youth.

Routine—Defining our routine allows us to control our own narratives which will include changing the culture of our daily lives based on the new normal.  Consistent sleeping, eating and workout schedules are key. As a group, develop standard school work time, fun time and social time. Increase control over daily moments to restore a reality that is predictable.

Practice Mindfulness—It will change your life both physically and mentally. Click here for a Mindfulness Toolkit from our mask presentation including the work of Harvard’s Making Caring Common–which is a must visit website full of advice about how we can all be better about caring for the common good.

College students seemingly had to grow up overnight. They have demonstrated such resilience.  They are united by experiencing the painful lesson that life can be unfair. I am inspired by their readiness to move forward.  Parents and educators need to follow their lead and dwell in the positive. 

Our youth are not at physical war, but are experiencing a void and change that war creates

My history teacher brain keeps jumping to the World War II stories of students moving on without celebrations as they were abruptly thrown into unknowns and forced to let go of short term goals and dreams.  Unfortunately, these stories are suddenly easily relatable to our youth’s 2020 reality. Let’s move forward and maintain a united and positive perspective as we create ways (check out our working document by clicking) to move forward.  Tough times often create opportunities just as WWII did for women. Pursue what you love and make the best out of this situation.  Some good will come of this time if we continue to dream!

*Thank you to college student Sam B for contributing their perspective to this post.

*This story aired after above was written. Since it aired the April ACT has moved to June and the May SAT is cancelled.


©Eva McGregor Dodds

is an affiliate of Collegewise. Collegewise offers test prep, college counseling, and free resources too!

Published by instacollegecounselor

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