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September 17, 2020

Choice Amidst COVID: A College Planning Virtual Workshop for College Students

This blog post is part of a series of recordings for the Student Success webinars College Promise will be holding throughout September 2020.

This week, College Promise held a virtual panel discussion to give students an opportunity to hear practical information on choosing the next steps in their educational plan, including pitfalls to avoid and options they may not have considered before COVID.

Farhad Asghar, a program officer with the Carnegie Corporation’s Education program, moderated a panel of experts who serve diverse student populations, including: Dr. Blake Ellis, Vice President of Student Engagement, Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, Dr. Keisha Stephenson Taylor, Senior Director of Postsecondary & Partnership Engagement at NAF, and Tanya Ang, Vice President of Veterans Education Success.

These experts provided helpful advice for students facing an unexpected educational environment:

How can students avoid potentially predatory colleges and loans, particularly as many students explore alternative pathways?

Tanya Ang noted that since COVID there has been a significant increase in marketing for online course work and flexible schedules and cautioned students not to fall for rhetoric around these opportunities being limited or unique as most schools have now created some level of online options. She also warned against schools that use high pressure or “limited capacity” tactics to encourage students to enroll quickly, saying “if [schools] are putting that kind of pressure on you, then that’s not the right school for you.”

Keisha Taylor agreed, adding that “Taking your time, doing your research is really important. There are so many resources online, different checklists, that you can take a look at in terms of making those decisions.”

Blake Ellis addressed the students themselves directly saying, “You are not a market to be exploited, you are a community resource that benefits all of us and I know that your local community college is able to serve you.”

What advice would you offer to students considering taking a gap year, switching majors or even changing schools?

Blake Ellis insisted that there is no one correct path or time frame for all students and that all of the options presented were valid choices as long as students are building skills or experience that move them towards their goals. “I want to encourage you to put thought into it, make a plan to ensure that if you are taking credits, they really line up with what you want to achieve.”

Tanya Ang reiterated this by saying, “it's ok to take a gap year if you need. If you need time to figure out plans...rather than taking coursework that won't transfer, it's ok to take time to reprioritize and re-establish yourself.”

Keisha Taylor advised students to continuously document the skills they are gaining in time spent away from higher education, saying, “how do you tell that story on the other side of the experience…what is it you are going to say about that time? What skills did you gain? What reflections can you articulate about those experiences?”

What are your biggest pieces of advice and guidance for those struggling to navigate higher education at this time?

Keisha Taylor encouraged students to invest time “identifying and finding organizations that help prepare you for that transition to higher education, to the world of work.” She went on to say, “there's so many resources out there and you have to seek them out. This is really the best time to be empowered to seek them out.”

Blake Ellis encouraged students to find ways to stay connected even as in-person opportunities become scarce saying “I am a believer in the human experience and the power of our ability to connect with people outside of the academic setting and we can still do this virtually.”

Tanya Ang offered students that might be struggling encouragement, saying, “don't give up, keep going forward! During Covid it can be lonely, but take opportunities to reach out and keep connected.”

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