The most recent survey of college-bound students conducted by Niche.com revealed strong evidence that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the decisions they made about their educational plans. Key findings from this survey, which included 18,739 responses from students across the nation, will be released as a white paper (accessible on the Niche.com site this coming Tuesday morning), coinciding with a presentation at this week’s virtual conference hosted by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC).
Consistent with other recently reported findings, low-income students were more directly impacted by the spread of the coronavirus. For example, they were 50 percent more likely to stay closer to home to attend college in comparison to students from higher income families. Often, these decisions were connected to the need for students to take care of other family members or to supplement the income of their households.
The results of the present study were foreshadowed by findings from an earlier poll conducted this past spring by Niche.com, when over 36,000 seniors were asked if the public health crisis was affecting their thinking about college. Almost 45 percent of these seniors said they were reconsidering their college choices, including 38 percent who indicated that they were considering staying closer to home.
In this newest survey, it is clear that financial issues have been creating more anxiety for college-bound students. Looking back on the 2016 survey conducted by Niche.com, almost 50 percent of students believed they would be able to afford the college in which they had enrolled. Fast forward to 2020, and now less than one third of students held that same belief. On the other hand, these 2020 college students as a group were more satisfied with the financial aid package they received from their chosen school. So, even if these students expressed more concern about affordability, they ended up feeling better about the support they were offered.
As might be expected, lower-income students were much less likely to be confident they could afford their school of choice. Unexpectedly, however, even those low-income students who were the most prepared to attend college — including those with GPAs at or above a 4.0 — remained deeply concerned that scholarships and other forms of tuition assistance would not be enough to help them completely pay for their education.
Uncertainties about going to college extended to student confidence in the degree to which they were adequately prepared for success. Here, student confidence in their level of preparedness has been showing a slight decline over the past three years: dropping from 82 percent who felt confident in 2017 to 79 percent in 2019. However, this year the Niche.com survey split out academic preparedness from social preparedness. While 78 percent of the 2020 students believed that they were academically prepared, only 62 percent thought that they were socially prepared for college life. Hence, the drop in confidence levels seem to have more to do with psychological and emotional readiness rather than pure academic abilities per se.
Will Patch, the enrollment marketing leader on Niche.com’s business operations and analytics team, noted that “low-income and rural students have been facing a number of barriers to access. Now, with many opportunities moving online and often less reliable Internet access, those barriers can feel even greater. Additionally, low-income students were more likely to see standardized testing as a burden and that test-optional policies were important for colleges. That’s good news now in that two-thirds of colleges have moved to test-optional or test-blind policies.”
Another bright spot in the reported findings included the fact that most students were able to enroll in the school they most wanted to attend. In fact, just under 80 percent of all students participating in the Niche.com survey reported that they were accepted to their first-choice college. Interestingly, there were no significant differences between those students who attended public and private high schools in terms of getting into their choice of schools.
One final piece of good news: less than 5 percent of all students participating in the survey reported that their family was not supportive of their decision to attend college. While the lack of family support was reported by a higher percentage of students from low-income families (7.5%) and first-generation students (7.1%) in comparison to the total sample, those numbers were relatively low. Hence, while the families of low-income and first-generation students may need extra attention in terms of understanding exactly how to provide encouragement and assurance, there seems to be little evidence that these family members are not supportive of their sons and daughters as they pursue a college degree.