Choosing a College for Fall 2020

Published by Wendy Nelson on

Choosing a college for Fall 2020 has been made extremely difficult due to COVID-19. What is normally a decision with many different variables has become so much more complicated because colleges don’t know yet what their landscape looks like for Fall 2020. As the looming deposit date deadlines approach, students and their families are agonizing over making a decision without a full set of information.

I have compiled 5 tips below in attempt to make choosing a college for Fall 2020 somewhat easier for you.

1. Wait As Long As Possible to Choose a College

52% of colleges have extended their deposit deadlines from May 1, 2020 to June 1, 2020 or later. You can access an updated listing of these schools here: Colleges with New Deposit Date.

If you don’t see the college your student plans to attend on this list, check the Admissions area of the college’s website to see if they have posted anything about deposit date extensions.

Colleges want you to think that if you don’t deposit by their deadline, you will lose your spot. In the past, many colleges still had open spots after the deposit date. That will be the case for many more colleges this year, as more students, especially international students, decide not to go to college far from home.

Waiting as long as possible in choosing a college will allow for more time for the colleges to determine what their Fall semester is going to look like. Once the colleges on your student’s list determine how they are going to run Fall semester, it will be easier to choose the option that works best for your student.

If your student’s target schools are all still sitting at a May 1 deadline and you don’t want to risk losing a spot, I recommend calling the admissions offices to see if they can make any accommodations. If you wait until after the schools broadcast their plans for Fall, will you lose an admissions spot? Will you lose need-based and/or merit-based aid? If some schools seem more flexible than others, that may help in choosing a college.

2. Go For the Best Financial Offer

In line with my regular advice for picking a college, go with the college that offers the best deal. “Deal” should equate to “value” and value is a measure of what you get compared to what you give. Therefore the school with the lowest net price may not win out as the best overall “value” when you do a full comparison.

In this time of COVID-19, you may be tempted to look at value only in terms of what Fall semester of 2020 looks like at a particular school. Be sure to weigh value over the full 4 year experience and not just whether the school is on campus or online to start with.

Granted, paying a high price for a first semester online-only experience will not feel like a good deal. If your student’s top choice is staying with an online-only schedule for Fall 2020, another option for your student to explore is doing something else for a year, like community college or a project-based gap year, and reapplying for 2021.

3. Check the School’s Finances

Many colleges are facing financial hardships due to Spring housing refunds and loss of on-campus revenues. Two small regional colleges have announced they will close permanently – MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois and Urbana University in Urbana, Ohio. These will probably not be the only schools to close over the next few years.

The news has been filled with stories of colleges struggling, including Johns Hopkins University, which is cutting salaries and jobs.

Before your student puts down a deposit, make sure you know that the school’s finances are stable enough to carry them through this challenging time. The normal measures of college financial stability are not so meaningful right now because we don’t know yet how Fall 2020 enrollment will compare to Fall 2019 enrollment. However, the schools that were already considered the healthiest before COVID-19 should be better able to whether this crisis than the schools that were already unhealthy. You can check the College Financial Health Grades 2019 published last Fall by Forbes.

Also check for recent news stories that mention the school.

4. Negotiate

I always recommend trying to negotiate with your student’s top schools for a better offer. Now, especially, many colleges will want to help you make choosing a college for Fall 2020, their college, easier by decreasing your out-of-pocket cost.

It is always best to have your student do their own negotiating. However, colleges do expect parents to do this too, so if your student isn’t agreeable, do it yourself.

The top points to make in negotiating for a better deal are:

  • Any financial hardships your family is facing due to COVID-19
  • Better offers from other schools
  • Your student’s preference to attend this school if they can give a better offer

When negotiating, being humble and grateful are key. Your student is not “entitled” to a better offer from a school, but of course would be very thankful to get one.

5. Stay Closer to Home

Many students are choosing to stay closer to home for Fall 2020 due to the unknowns related to COVID-19. If campuses open for Fall and a new round of outbreaks occur, will students be forced to move back home like they were in Spring of 2020? Is it better to stay somewhere easily drive-able to avoid plane or train travel? These are questions that nobody knows the answer to right now. The security of having home close by may outweigh the urge to travel far and experience a new environment right now.

If it comes down to two schools that are very similar in cost and experience otherwise, your student may want to pick the one that’s closer to home.


Good luck to you and your high school Senior faced with a more difficult than normal admissions decision. We all hope for a world where students looking at choosing a college for 2021 and beyond will not be faced with the challenges that apply to Fall 2020 admissions.