Advisors to College-bound Students: Stay the Course

'I don’t believe that putting your life on hold is the best solution'

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In the next two weeks, millions of college students are about to begin their fall semester, both in-person and online.

College advisors are getting a lot of questions from both students and parents about it.

“They are quite varied but they all revolve around the same thing: Tell me what is going to happen? And tell me what do I need to do to still be able to accomplish my goals?” said David Dillard, president of KD College Prep, which helps students across North Texas prepare for applications and planning for college.

No one has a crystal ball but schools are coming up with battle plans to prepare.

For example, SMU posted its Fall 2020 Operations Plan last week. It's designed to minimize the spread of COVID-19 among its thousands of students and staff.

Some key takeaways include contact tracing for incidents of exposure, upgraded air filters, social distancing and mask enforcement, and enhanced cleaning protocols. Click here to read the full plan posted online.

But as is the case for many other schools, officials said it's a working document and is subject to change as we navigate the pandemic this fall semester.

And for some students and parents, that makes planning for the future not so easy.

“We’re trying to comfort our families and letting them know to give themselves grace to not have all the answers but to continue to focus on your goals,” he said. “Reassess what’s most important and make sure that you’re staying focused on that, even in uncertain times.”

Dillard said many of his students are choosing to leave for college and do a mix of both in-person and online classes. Others choosing to stay in Dallas and do online-only classes at home.

Either way, he said it's important to have a backup plan if things change.

“I think the big takeaway for our parents and students that I’m talking to is, you need to have contingencies. It’s good in life to have choices,” he said. “Be willing to take baby steps every day even though it’s foggy and you don’t know whether you’re headed in the right direction. Because I don’t believe that putting your life on hold is the best solution.“

The same can be said for high school students who will start applying for colleges in the next few months.

Adam Dutka, who will begin this semester as a high school senior in Plano, said that's something he's struggling with. His advisors are telling him and others this isn't a reason to give up or back down on your future.

“It’s tricky because there’s so much going on. Me and my family have been trying to gain a lot of information as to what’s the wisest thing to do,” he said. “But it’s a little tense because some of my friends are like it’s senior year, go for it and have some fun. But at the same time, it’s just being conscious of the fact that it’s a deadly virus.”

With that being said, for 12th graders who are approaching application season, Dillard said there’s real opportunity here.

“Colleges are very concerned about kids showing up and about netting the number of students that they normally do. We have found it to be a great environment for students who want to go for dream schools because they may be well received,” he said. “You should be optimistic about it. You should still put together the best application you can. And be ready to showcase your best self.”

And for 11th graders and below, Dillard’s advice is to stay the course while planning ahead for college.

“They have no idea what the landscape is going to look like down the road, nobody does. But we know that there will be a little more normalcy by the time they get there,” he said.

“You’ve got to stay focused on paying attention to becoming the best student you can be, challenge yourself where you can, still stay involved and be active outside of the classroom to try to make a difference in the things you do so that they can see the development of a person by the time you apply to college. And be the strongest candidate that you can because there are going to be opportunities for you down the road,” Dillard added.

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