With so much uncertainty around whether the economy will be reopened to the extent that students will be able to return to campus in the fall, many are wondering if they should take a semester or year off, move to a fully online option, go to a community college, or chance returning to campus (should it be open).
In my opinion: it depends.
Your options, as I see them, are three-fold and as follows:
(1) Take a semester (or year) off. This option is available to current students (as a Leave of Absence) and most newly admited, perspective students (as a Deferment).
If you are a perspective student and you just need more time to think about your options for whatever reason, ask your Admissions Officer/Counselor about the possibility of deferring for a semester or a year – generally, deferments can not be granted for more than one year from the semester of the request.
A Deferment will allow you to keep your admittance into the program without being enrolled in classes and without giving up your place in the program. If you decide not to attend the university, but contact admissions a semester later asking if you can now enroll without requesting a deferment, they will likely request that you reapply to the program. Skip the potential for a reapplication process and defer. There are generally no obligations to doing so, but you will want to check with your individual college.
If you are a current student and you need a semester or longer off, talk with your Academic Advisor about the possibility of taking a Leave of Absence.
A Leave of Absence will allow you to take off a semester or more (like deferments, they generally go up to one year) and return without having to reapply. Even as a currently enrolled student, you are not immune to being required to reapply to the program if you go MIA for a semester. (Note that the summer term is generally not counted against you, if you do not enroll, so you will likely not have to request a Leave of Absence in order to remain in the program should you sit summer out.)
(2) Take classes at your local community college. If you are a perspective student or enrolled in your first two years of a four-year university, consider taking some of your core classes at your local community college and later transferring them in. This is an especially good option if your university has decided to move fully online for the summer and fall semesters, as the tuition rates are usually considerably cheaper and you will be able to transfer these classes at a later date.
If you are interested in transferring community college classes to your current (or future) four-year university, it is imperative you speak with your advisor about the logistics of doing so. Most accredited colleges and universities have a maximum number of classes that you can transfer toward your degree and the number varies by institution. Do your homework and talk with your advisor and admissions counselor about how many classes you can transfer in. Once you are enrolled in classes, check with your institution about how those specific classes you are registered for will transfer in. Most universities have a page on the Registrar’s website or within your student portal that will allow you to see how classes will transfer. If not, or if you are not sure where to find this information, talk with your academic advisor/admissions counselor.
If you are a current student, you will want to apply to the community college as a transient student, meaning you are planning on taking classes there to later transfer to your current institution. Talk with the community college admissions counselor about how to apply as a transient student.
(3) Chance going or returning to campus. No matter what you are hearing from your university administration, faculty, family and/or friends, even if your university decides to reopen, chances are there will be some kind of “new normal” established. In other words, do not expect that things will resume as per usual, no matter what your university administration may be telling you.
Let me here make a point very clear: universities are worried about losing students if they move to a fully-online format. No matter whether the quality of education is comparable (or even in some instances better) than an in-person format, many parents and students take issue with paying full-tuition prices for online learning, because they see it as less of a quality education than in-person. University administrators know this. They also know that online tuition is very generally much cheaper at the community college and that many students will opt to take community college classes to later transfer (as described above in option 2).
The college I work for is one of the few that has been extremely forthcoming about the fall semester not returning to “normal.” They have numerous work-groups that have been considering a variety of options from full-online, to hybrid, to in-person finishing after Thanksgiving. And I have seen the responses from students and parents alike, most of which express extreme disappointment at the lack of normalcy for the on-campus students returning or starting this fall. There will be loss of student tuition dollars, regardless.
Knowing that on-campus students are especially vulnerable to spreading illness, if you attend a university that promises on-campus instruction and a return to normalcy by August: be suspicious. It is much more likely that many of these universities are going to bait and switch you, whether or not it’s intentional. They will tell you that they plan to be on-campus, but are preparing contingencies behind the scenes for a full-online or hybrid option, and will at the last possible minute, once you are already enrolled in classes and excited to attend, move to the contingency plan.
We are facing a potential collapse of higher education due to the ramifications of COVID-19. Universities are afraid of losing students. Period. Even if universities want to reopen in fall, it is very likely that the Governors, especially of those states that have already suspended all K-12 in-person class sessions for the rest of the year, are going to make the decision to continue remote learning in higher education as well. The Governor of your state, not the President of the university, has the final say on the matter. Keep that in mind.
That said, assuming your university is promising a return to campus and you are packed and ready to go: you are a brave individual! Know that more likely than not, students will not be coming back to campus after Thanksgiving break. You will likely have hybrid type sessions, six feet distance, masks – the whole shebang. Football stadiums will likely not be packed. Many of your favorite older faculty may simply refuse to teach in-person sessions, so though you are on campus, you may still be taking classes online. And if you are living on campus, know that all diseases (whether the flu or COVID-19) spread more readily in communal living. Prepare for sickness. You may think you are young, healthy, and immune, but until there is a vaccine, no one is. If you want to risk it, that is up to you. But know many of your fellow students, faculty, and staff do not and are going to be working remotely if and when at all possible.
There are options available to you. My personal suggestion is to continue your education, even if it is in a full-online format. I can tell you that online learning has come a long way and the quality of the online format, just like in-person, depends more on your instructors and what effort you put into the class. The format does not make or break your learning experience, especially in a day and age where we are all already plugged-in.
My advice is to educate yourself about the latest news in Higher Education (e.g., Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education are two of my favorites) and make the decision that is best for you. Good luck!
–Your Academic Advisor