Decision time: High school seniors weigh college options amid pandemic 

  • Northampton High School graduating senior Lucia Dostal at the school, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. She has decided to attend the University of Massachusetts Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton High School graduating senior Lucia Dostal at the school, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. She has decided to attend the University of Massachusetts Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton High School graduating senior Lucia Dostal at the school, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. She has decided to attend the University of Massachusetts Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton High School graduating senior Lucia Dostal at the school, Wednesday, April 29, 2020. She has decided to attend the University of Massachusetts Amherst. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Maeve Raphael-Reily stands outside her home in Florence, Thursday, April 30, 2020. She plans to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Maeve Raphael-Reily stands outside her home in Florence, Thursday, April 30, 2020. She plans to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Maeve Raphael-Reily stands outside her home in Florence, Thursday, April 30, 2020. She plans to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Maeve Raphael-Reily stands outside her home in Florence, Thursday, April 30, 2020. She plans to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison this fall. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/1/2020 1:25:10 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As high school seniors around the country weighed their college options, Northampton High School senior Lucia Dostal had her sights set on Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and, with cases of the virus surging in metropolitan areas, Dostal was wary of studying in a location as densely packed as Boston. 

“For security purposes, I wouldn’t want to be stuck in the middle of a city if COVID is still happening in the fall,” said Dostal, whose family has felt the effects of the shutdown. Her father had to close for non-emergency appointments at his Easthampton optometry practice, Dostal Eyecare. After much deliberation, she decided just days before the May 1 decision deadline that she will attend the University of Massachusetts Amherst — an option that’s less expensive and closer to home.

Dostal’s experience is not uncommon: A survey conducted by the Baltimore-based consulting firm Art & Science Group in April shows that among almost 1,200 high school seniors polled, one in six students who initially planned to attend a four-year college full time are reconsidering. Most commonly, they consider options such as enrolling part time in a bachelor’s degree program, taking a gap year or deferring their admission to the spring 2021, or attending a community college. 

For those who do plan to attend a four-year college full time, over 58% of students are very or somewhat concerned that they won’t be able to attend their first choice college due to the pandemic.

Additionally, a recent survey by Junior Achievement USA and Citizens Bank shows that 44% of high school juniors and seniors polled say that COVID-19 has affected how they will pay for college.

For current high school seniors, time has either run out or is fast approaching to make a decision amid the uncertainty: Some colleges, such as Hampshire College, have pushed their enrollment deposits to June 1. But others, including the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst College, Smith College and Mount Holyoke College, are sticking to the traditional May 1 deadline used by most schools.

While UMass was not Dostal’s original choice, making the decision was a relief, she said. Dostal may be able to transfer to Berklee eventually, but she says that depends on the long-term financial effects of the pandemic.

“It’s been super stressful, but I feel like committing to UMass gave me a sense of security, because I know that UMass has so much to offer, and they’re also a 15-minute drive away,” Dostal said, “so if anything were to happen in the fall, like if schools are still closed and I wouldn’t be able to live on campus, that would be OK.”

Willa Sippel, also a senior at Northampton High School, was also somewhat worried about attending school in a city when choosing between The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.

“In that decision, I was definitely considering what’s more likely to be open next fall,” Sippel said. “In D.C., the metropolitan city areas … I can’t imagine that would be open. Even though that wasn’t the main deciding factor, that was something I was considering.”

While the virtual open houses that colleges have been holding in lieu of traditional accepted student events have been helpful, Sippel also found it challenging to choose between two schools based on her memories from campus visits over a year ago.

Although Sippel has already put down an enrollment deposit for Bryn Mawr, she has not ruled out asking the college to defer her admission and taking a gap year. 

“I really don’t like online classes, and I really don’t learn that way, so I would maybe get a job,” she said. At this point, Sippel still anticipates going straight to college but says it’s a difficult decision when no one knows what COVID-19 will look like in the fall. 

Even for those who did not plan to transition directly from high school to college, such as Northampton High School senior Maeve Raphael-Reily, the COVID-19 virus has thrown plans into question. 

Prior to the pandemic, Raphael-Reily knew that she wanted to take a gap year to learn Spanish and possibly attend classes in Colombia, then start at the University of Wisconsin-Madison the following year. But amid travel warnings and school closures, Raphael-Reily anticipates that she may need to stay in the Valley as she continues to work at a grocery store and take Spanish classes. 

Raphael-Reily says there is also a possibility that the University of Wisconsin-Madison will not grant her request to defer admission to fall 2021.

“I don’t know if I could really take a semester off, so I would just have to go with the remote learning,” Raphael-Reily said — a prospect she doesn’t find exciting. But just as remote high school classes are not ideal, Raphael-Reily said, at college, “if it happens, I’ll just have to go through with it.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.

Jobs



Support Local Journalism


Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy