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College-Bound Students Jumped For Joy When They Got In. Now They’re Weighing Grim Options

The University Village area of the University of Southern California in Los A...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: The University Village area of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, Tuesday, March 12, 2019.

California’s stay-at-home order had been in effect for about a week when Daniel Zhevel found out he was accepted into the University of Southern California.

He was on a run when he got the email.

“I kinda just freaked out in the middle of the sidewalk.I was just jumping up and down. I was just so happy,” he said. “It felt like a long-term goal met after working really hard for it.”

At that moment, standing on the sidewalk, Zhevel didn’t think the pandemic would interrupt his college dreams.

“It was March and I thought, August is really far away, I think it’ll be over by then,” he said. “But now it’s literally May tomorrow and I don’t know, it’s not looking better.”

Traditionally, early May is when high school seniors are committing to the college they’re planning to attend. But this year the pandemic has complicated these decisions. If USC begins the school year with online classes, Zhevel is considering taking a gap year to work and save money.

“I really don’t want to pay to do work from my house,” he said. “If I’m gonna pay for college I really wanna be there getting all the resources I can get instead of paying just to do work from my couch.”

USC allows students to defer their admission by up to one year. But deferral policies can vary greatly by school. Students admitted to UC Davis can also defer by one year. UC Irvine, however, only allows deferrals on rare occasions.

Reported by Joe Hong , Video by Roland Lizarondo

Scrambling To Adapt

College admissions officers are aware that students are reconsidering, and they’re trying to adapt.

“COVID-19 has thrown all models out the window,” Scot Hagg, the associate vice president of enrollment services at Cal State San Marcos.

Every year, Hagg’s department at the university calculates how many students it needs to accept to maintain the size of the student body. It’s always an estimation since not all admitted students ultimately enroll. These numbers determine not just the size of the student body but also how much the university will receive in tuition.

Hagg says so far this year there’s been a slight dip in the number accepted students putting down their deposits, but he said it’s likely because the university extended its deadline to June 1.

“At the moment we have 1513 students that have submitted their intent. Last year around this time it was 1900 or so,” Hagg said. “There is definitely a drop-off but students don’t have the pressure to get their deposits in.”

Hagg has been hearing from students who are considering taking a gap year. He said he understands their concerns about the quality of education they could get online, but says the economic downturn resulting from the pandemic will make a college degree that much more valuable.

“With the economy in its current state, it’s the best time to go into higher education,” Hagg said. “A lot of times, if you take a year off it, becomes a little more difficult to come back to school.”

Opting For Community College

Some students are committed to continuing their education even if it’s online, but it might mean considering a less expensive institution in the short term.

Rose Scalo, who currently attends San Diego High School, was set to attend UC Davis, one of her dream schools, to study environmental science. But today she’s considering attending San Diego City College for one or two years and transferring to Davis.

“If classes are going to be online, I’d rather be paying the community college rates especially because it’s my freshman year,” she said. “I’m gonna be getting my GEs done. It’s not like I’m taking those super highly specific major classes yet.”

Changing her plans will be disappointing, she said, especially since San Diego City College’s campus is right next to her high school. She said her mom, who attended UCLA, always emphasized the importance of the “going-away-to-college” experience.

“I’m gonna be sad if I don’t get to go. There’s been so much build-up to this point right?” Scalo said. “June 9 is supposed to be the end date of my high school experience, and then I move and then I grow up. But it looks like I might just be staying in my house in sort of a continuation of high school.

Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

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Joe Hong
Education Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an education reporter, I'm always looking for stories about learning. My favorite education stories put a student's face on bigger policy issues. I regularly sift through enrollment data, test scores and school budgets, but telling student-centered stories is my top priority.

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