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Coronavirus Makes the College Try a Challenge for High School Seniors

April 1, 2020
By Greg Sullivan

 Coronavirus Makes the College Try a Challenge for High School Seniors

Ironically, in these times when schools are closed, Bethany Guimond has been getting the education of her life.

One of B.M.C. Durfee High School’s two senior class guidance counselors, Guimond has had to figure out how to do her job of helping college-bound Hilltoppers without the benefit of personal meetings, without being able to mail paperwork, and working with scholarship-giving organizations who are not necessarily high-tech in their operations.

“It’s been like a learning curve the last two weeks,” Guimond said Wednesday, while out for a walk.

The challenges have also been significant for college and university admissions personnel. Prospective students have not been able to visit for the past few weeks and the end of those prohibitions do not appear imminent. Many colleges annually offer special visiting days for already accepted students, but those have been wiped off the calendar, at least as far as in-person visits are concerned.

Virtual tours/visits have become the norm at institutions of higher learning.

“I know that we are working with applicants on a case-by-case basis and are giving prospective students significant latitude during the process,” said Ryan Merrill, public affairs specialist at UMass Dartmouth. “One issue we’ve seen come up is that students are having a difficult time accessing their high school records given that the secondary schools will be closed for the foreseeable future.”

Virtual tours/visits/meetings have become the norm at institutions of higher learning.

“We continue to see steady enrollment for our incoming class, but given this kind of disruption, we are in new territory and it is too soon to predict how things will unfold in the long-run,” Martin McGovern, communications and media relations director for Stonehill College in Easton, wrote in an email. He said the school continues its virtual outreach to prospective students and their families so they can connect with faculty, admissions, financial aid representatives and current students.

Durfee guidance, Guimond said, had encouraged seniors to get their college visits done in the fall and to apply for early action/early decision in November. Many seniors did just that, Guimond said, reducing the application/acceptance stress which has descended on high school seniors this spring.

Financial aid remains a major issue. Guimond said Durfee partners with uAspire, a nonprofit organization that helps students navigate the often frightening world of college financial aid and loans.

But there are also the very important local scholarship organizations which do not necessarily operate in cyberspace.

“They require transcripts and letters of recommendation, and it has to be mailed in,” Guimond said.

Therein lies another challenge because the guidance counselors can only send transcripts electronically. Durfee is working with the organizations to see if information can be emailed.

Local scholarships – Durfee Alumni, Dollars for Scholars, for example – conduct face-to-face interviews with students as part of their selection processes. In all likelihood, that’s not happening in coronavirus-ravaged 2020. Guimond said Durfee guidance is or will be reaching out to these organizations to help facilitate online, high-tech meetings with the students.

Durfee is using Google Hangouts and Zoom so staff can have virtual meetings with students, some of whom are home computer-less and are completing assignments on their phones. Some students are not very internet-savvy, or don’t have internet access at all. Those students still want and need guidance. “There’s always that population,” she said, “that you have to reach face to face.”

Frustration continues to build for Somerset Berkley Regional High School senior Ashley Macek, who might well be losing out on an abbreviated senior year competing in track and field. She has not yet decided on a college.

“Seniors have to decide where we are going to college in a few months and we can’t even go visit the school we’ve been accepted to due to the fact that all accepted students days have been canceled,” Macek said in a text. “I want to run track and college and this season was extremely important to me to prove to college coaches what I can do.”

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