Even without knowing what the fall will look like, college-bound high-school seniors must now decide which school they will attend in September.
After being pushed back from May, amid extreme uncertainty due to the coronavirus crisis, hundreds of colleges have declared June 1 National College Decision Day, the deadline for admitted students to submit deposits.
Yet there is still little clarity about what the upcoming academic year will look like.
University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel told CNBC he is “very optimistic” the school will offer some in-person instruction in the fall. However, it is unlikely students will be able to gather in large groups or attend football games in the school’s 100,000-seat-plus stadium.
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In a video message, Auburn University President Jay Gogue told incoming freshmen that the fall semester will even include football, fraternities and sororities, and clubs, as usual.
Meanwhile, the California State University System announced that all students, enrolled on 23 campuses, will take fall classes online.
Other schools, such as the University of Notre Dame, have proposed a compromise, accounting for a second wave of Covid-19 cases, which includes starting the semester early and sending students home by Thanksgiving.
“It is truly nail-biting season,” said Robert Franek, editor in chief of The Princeton Review and author of “The Best 385 Colleges.”
With so much uncertainty, many college-bound students are choosing to play it safe.
More than half, or 57%, of seniors are reconsidering the schools on their list, according to a recent survey by college comparison site Niche.
The sentiment among would-be freshmen is that remote learning is just not worth the cost and some would rather stay closer to home and enroll in a local and less-expensive in-state public school or community college.
Other high school seniors are opting to put college on hold and take a gap year, or simply to reapply to college the following year rather than defer.
Of course, even committing to a college is no guarantee in the current climate. Among those who have already made deposits, 1 in 6 students said they no longer plan to attend, according to data by consulting firm Art & Science Group, which polled more than 1,000 high school seniors from April 21 to 24.
Although deposits can be as little as $500, the payment constitutes a formal agreement with a school. It is also considered unethical to submit deposits to more than one college, also known as “double depositing,” according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
With an increasing number of incoming freshmen second-guessing their options for the fall, and many international students unable to enter the U.S., colleges and universities heavily dependent on tuition revenue are facing significant shortfalls.
“Should a significant percentage of students decide to go to another school, whether it’s the less expensive local route or the community college route or a gap year program, closer to home, there could be some casualties,” Franek said.
“The truth is any of those things could happen and it will be very difficult for many schools to weather.”