What Can North Texas Students Expect When Preparing for College This Fall?

Spring Creek Campus // courtesy Collin College
Spring Creek Campus // courtesy Collin College

The past three months of 2020 have looked nothing like we could’ve anticipated a year ago, but perhaps we are collectively learning that predictability is, ironically, impossible to predict. For many incoming college freshman, it is likely that their first semester of college may not look like a typical one. So, how can we in North Texas best equip our high school graduates for the easiest possible entrance to college in the midst of a pandemic?

“I think all colleges nationwide are preparing for three different scenarios. One is something that’s as close to normal as usual, another is a hybrid – some online, some on-campus – and the other is purely online,” shared MK Werner, president of GradPath, a local service that helps equip high schoolers for college through test strategy advising, college research, application assistance and anything else college-related her clients may need.

North Texas Colleges Plan for Fall

“SMU’s – and other schools in the area – intent is to get rid of packed lecture hall situations. Schools will be extending class schedules to include weekend classes, earlier mornings, later evenings. This way, they can spread out the flow of people both physically and time-wise,” said MK. “They’re keeping the positive parts of the student experience but also giving parents confidence that if their kid comes to campus, they will be doing things to keep them safe.”

“SMU intends to safely open our university for on-campus teaching, learning and student living for the fall semester,” shared Southern Methodist University President R. Gerald Turner. “Be assured, every phase of our return to campus will launch with the health and safety of our campus population in mind.”

It is difficult to know, though, what the future holds for the university system in North Texas as a whole. Most schools are hesitant to share COVID-19 plans for the fall as the situation is constantly changing, but will likely be releasing formal plans later in the summer.

“For the fall, right now we’re enrolling all classes as in-person. We know that is probably going to be a Herculean effort to do that. We’re trying to evaluate if we should move to a hybrid option,” said Amanda Rockow, Office of Public Affairs vice president for University of Texas at Dallas, over a Zoom Town Hall on May 28. “We intend to follow all the CDC guidelines when we figure out fall. We hope to make an announcement in June about what we’re going to do.”

Natalie Young Williams, chief of staff at Dallas’ Paul Quinn College, shared at the Town Hall as well, in regard to their plans for the fall. “We’re anticipating and intentionally planning for a smaller class coming in…The scenario we are operating under right now is if we need to continue [virtual learning] because we’re not seeing…the possibility of a vaccine at any point in the near term. With students being on campus in close proximity, it makes it very difficult and challenging for us to exercise social distancing.”

Collin College, a community college, will have many classes online but will also have some classes in a hybrid online and in-person format. A number of families in the Plano and surrounding area are considering deferring their kid from university for a year, opting to have them take classes online from Collin College. This is a financially sound alternative as those families won’t have to pay out-of-state tuition only to have their kid be taking class partially or even fully online.

As for decision deadlines, there are two factors allowing for universities to be a lot more lenient than usual. The national decision day has been May 1 for a long time, but there was a lawsuit settled this past year that has changed that. Many schools were already planning on later decision dates, and then COVID-19 hit. Now, some schools may give incoming students until as late as August to decide. UT Arlington, for instance, has disclosed a new reply deadline of August 15, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Other North Texas schools have not shared that information.

Most local colleges are considering a mix of classroom and online learning // courtesy Southern Methodist University
Most local colleges are considering a mix of classroom and online learning // courtesy Southern Methodist University

How Can Rising High School Seniors Prepare?

As for students entering 11th and 12th grade in August, in-person visits may not be possible at colleges this fall. “One of the positive things that’s come out of this is that colleges have taken the information they would’ve saved for an on-campus visit, and put it online,” said MK. “The schools are offering virtual tours and getting inventive by having students make videos with their phones to share from their perspective. You can virtually approximate what it would be like to be at that school.”

MK also recommended any student looking at colleges to check out CampusReel.org, where they can learn about colleges they’re interested in.

As rising seniors begin to apply to colleges, MK highly recommends that they take the SAT, ACT or both standardized tests. Though some schools have announced that they will not be requiring the tests, this does not apply to all schools.

“I’m afraid that our local students will assume that tests are optional for all schools, and then find out too late to get in that the school that want to go to requires test scores,” MK said. “On top of this, tests provide an advantage because certain scores can award the student scholarship opportunities.”

It’s become clear, too, that many schools will push back application deadlines and will want to see senior fall semester grades, something they usually do not ask for. On top of this, many rising college freshmen may choose to defer their spot a year, possibly nearly doubling the group of people planning to start college in the fall of 2021. The application process this coming year could be much more competitive than usual as a result.

“I’ve never seen students finish their junior year and be so eager to get started. They’ve been home long enough that their mindset is ‘I’m going to do everything I can so I can eventually get out of here,’” MK said. “In addition, their mindset is that while they’re stuck in quarantine, they might as well get things done. When the world opens up, they want to be with their friends again.”

With so much up in the air, it is difficult to predict what fall 2020 will look like, but the best thing parents and students can do is equip themselves with information and strive to be adaptable. Whatever happens, we can rest knowing that students all over the globe will receive an education this fall – it’s not a matter of if, only a matter of how.

Parents of high school students may contact MK Werner at GradPath for more help getting their students ready for college.

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