High school seniors: College considerations during COVID-19

Megan Red Shirt-Shaw

'As we move forward in uncertainty together, believe in yourself and the possibility of your future'

Megan Red Shirt-Shaw

Oglala Lakota

Many of you are ending your school year and asking questions about what your next steps for college acceptance and enrollment are. With high schools, colleges, and tribal offices closed or working remotely, we know that many of you have varied access to internet, computers, or cell phones. As you consider next steps at four year colleges and universities, tribal colleges, technical schools, and transition programs, below are some steps that you can take, even from your phone, to be prepared to enroll in higher education during COVID-19.

  1. Fill out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and if you have already submitted, log into your FAFSA and check to see if it has been processed. There may be additional verification steps that you and your family have to submit in order to receive your financial aid packages, so it’s very important to log in when you can. You can even fill out or check the FAFSA on your cell phone via the app titled myStudentAid.
  2. Check your email regularly as many colleges and universities are in touch with you via the email that you listed in your application. If you’re not seeing any follow up information, check your spam folder. If you know that your school email will be turned off after graduation, create a Gmail account and update your college contact information.
  3. Find your acceptance letters and re-read them to check on deadlines or information about next steps to accept your enrollment. There may be instructions about setting up email accounts or portals that are important to activate in order to move forward in the process.
  4. Set up phone calls with admissions officers or financial aid counselors at the institutions you might be considering. If you have questions about how to move forward, they’re there to support you in your considerations.
  5. Reflect on best fit and take the time to reflect about what your “musts” are. Where are you choosing between and what are the most important considerations? I often tell students to make a list of pros and cons of different factors including location, unmet financial need, housing, and Native student resources. What campus fulfills most or all of what you need to be successful at college?
  6. Research scholarships and deadlines with special attention to those that are targeted towards Native students. Many of those deadlines are coming up quickly. You can do anything you put your mind to, so set a timer and start writing. If you have already received a financial aid package, take a look at the unmet need for the college or university of your choice. These scholarships may be essential to helping you to fill that gap.
  7. Check on tribal higher education grants if you are enrolled in a federally recognized or state recognized tribe that provides scholarship opportunities, check your tribal office’s higher education website for information about deadlines to apply and mark your calendars.
  8. Refresh university and college websites regularly - particularly if you know that offices are closed for your institution of choice - to see if they have posted any information about updates or future communication. The better you know about what their plans are moving forward, the more you can do to prepare when the offices do re-open. You can even connect with current students or take campus tours on these websites.
  9. Reach out to your high school counselors, teachers, mentors, and family members who may have experienced or are familiar with the college process. Creating a support network is so important and will carry with you across your years of higher education.
  10. Remember that this is your process and take charge of the next chapter of your life.

As we move forward in uncertainty together, believe in yourself and the possibility of your future. Continue to create space to heal and self-appreciate during this time and know how many of our communities are behind you. If higher education continues to be part of your goals, keep going, remember how far you’ve come, the future is still yours. Ask questions and take initiative. We believe in you.

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Megan Red Shirt-Shaw (Oglala Lakota) earned her bachelor’s from the University of Pennsylvania in English, her master's from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Higher Education, and is currently pursuing her Ph.D in Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development with a focus on Higher Education and a minor in American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota. Prior to her Ph.D program, she worked in undergraduate admissions and college counseling. She currently teaches the "College Success Strategies" course and advises at the 7TH GEN Summer Program.