Expert discusses best practices for picking a college during the pandemic

Picking a college during a pandemic
Picking a college during a pandemic
Updated: Jan. 4, 2021 at 8:03 AM EST
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - An exciting part for many soon-to-be college students is touring the campus to see if it’s the perfect fit.

COVID-19, however, has limited the opportunities.

A college or university website can say a lot about the school, like the campus lifestyle, academics and cost.

Dr. Elaine Maimon, advisor at American Council on Education, said when beginning the college search, look for the campus life and how the students are represented. She noted the website will show how student-oriented the campus is.

Maimon added that prospective students should look at the crime statistics for each school to get an idea of the area’s safety. She said the FBI provides annual assessment reports.

As far as COVID-19 goes, Maimon said to look for statements about the school’s values with how they’re handling the pandemic.

“During the pandemic in particular, you’re going to see some institutions who were not consistent or maybe even the principle about the way they dealt with the pandemic,” she said. “What you’ll see there is a great wavering back and forth - ‘We’re open,’ ‘We’re not open’ - rather than the principle of, ‘We are going to do what needs to be done in this environment to protect the health and safety of the faculty, staff and the students while still delivering a quality education.’”

When checking out the academics on the website, Maimon said it’s crucial to look at the emphasis of the overall freshman-year program as well as who’s teaching the students.

“What you want to see in the freshman-year program is that the people teaching it are full-time faculty, not part-timers who are underpaid, overworked, often working more than one institution, can’t give the full attention to the first year program. So you want to take a look at that,” Maimon said.

She stressed examining the class sizes and whether it’s virtual or face-to-face, noting the smaller the better.

Maimon also said it’s important to check out how advising works for the first year as well, adding students need a chance to consider many majors.

Another key component of choosing a college during a pandemic is looking at the cost. Maimon said every applicant should fill out a free federal aid form, the FAFSA.

“Everyone should fill it out. Many families don’t. Sometimes they think their income is too high but at some of the very expensive, rich institutions they might be surprised at the grants they’d qualify for.”

Maimon’s last suggestion is to call the college or university and try to set an appointment with the financial aid counselors.

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