About 60% of Hispanics who graduate high school enroll in college in the same year. For those planning to go to college in the fall, the uncertainty in all aspects of our lives caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has made this decision all the more challenging.
During my first year as a full-time faculty at a community college, a Latina student asked how I had gotten a Ph.D. because she had never met a Latina with a doctoral degree. It was sad but not surprising, considering that at the time only 4.7% of people earning doctoral degrees in the U.S. were Hispanic (and that nearly 20 years later this rate is still in the single digits, at 7.8%). There is no denying that Latino participation in higher education is a strategic and financial imperative for this country, but in a time of crisis, we may be the first ones to feel forced off our paths.
In a normal spring, high school seniors that applied to 4-year colleges and universities would be in the midst of receiving letters of acceptance and financial aid offers, a season of celebrations as well as angst over final exams, AP tests, and college decisions and deposits. For colleges and universities, spring is when they lock-in that incoming class, welcoming college visits and gearing up for orientations. With the shutdown of all but essential health and safety services across the vast majority of the country, there is disappointment and uncertainty to go around.
Latino students in the class of 2020, here are some things to consider to keep your momentum going toward college:
Understand your Advanced Placement options
Advanced Placement (AP) allows high school students to earn college credits by taking a $94 test and scoring a 3 or higher on a 5-point scale. In 2019, 666,162 Hispanic students took 1.1 million AP exams across the country; in Florida alone, 80,123 Hispanic students took 137,885 AP tests. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, rather than canceling the tests for all, AP testing this spring is changing from the 3-hour in-person test that included multi-choice and free-response questions to a 45-minute online free-response test. The AP program is asking students that need mobile tools or connectivity to take the tests at home to reach out to them for support. You should consider if free-response is the best way for you to demonstrate what you have learned and if you feel ready to take a different test at this time. You can also cancel your registration and will not be charged the usual $40 late cancellation fee.
Take the time you need to make your college decision
If you’ve been admitted to one or more schools, congratulations! May 1st has been traditionally regarded as National College Decision Day, but many schools in response to the changing conditions have moved their deadline to June 1st. ACCEPT, an organization that seeks to advance equity in college admissions is keeping a running list of these institutions. If the schools you are considering are not on this list and you need the extra time, do not hesitate to reach out to them and ask for an extension. This is commonly done by people familiar with how the system works.
Take advantage of virtual college visits
Spring is also a time of college visits when families that are able to afford to travel to various schools get lots of attention. A bright light in this situation is that many schools are building out more robust virtual ways of getting to showcase their campuses. If you were not planning on college visits, you may be able to do them now! Ask about virtual visit options and sign up.
Consider a gap year
Taking a year off between high school and college might feel fancy and mysterious. An experience usually associated with a fun internship or backpacking through Europe might be just the break you and your family need so you are best positioned to go to college in a year. Colleges tend to keep their scholarship commitments to students taking a gap year. They will want to know what you will be doing during the gap year, and may still require you to make a deposit to ensure your interest. Ask the schools you are considering this option.
Look into your college’s soul
Find out how the schools you are considering are responding to the Covid-19 crisis; how well they have supported all of their students, especially their low-income and international students. What colleges have prioritized during this crisis will give you insights into their values and the experience you will have with them as a student and alum.
Ask many questions and share what you need
People who work at colleges and universities are also dealing with this crisis. Any changes they make, like the decision deadline, impact other steps in the process like orientations, dorm assignments—and it is entirely possible the whole academic year will need to be reconsidered. My best advice is to ask, ask, and then ask some more questions. Your questions are also an opportunity for them to be more responsive to the issues you are facing. And if they are not open to offer the support you need, then see above under “look into your college’s soul.”
For the class of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has ushered an abrupt end to their high school years, and for that alone they deserve some extra empathy and support. As we look ahead to the worst of this pandemic hitting the U.S., we must remind our Latino students that “para atrás ni para coger impulso”—don’t retreat, not even to gain momentum. Latino participation and success in higher education is imperative for the success of this country. Your voice and self-advocacy will be essential to make sure that colleges and universities are meeting your needs and not leaving you behind.