Chicago-area seniors' college decision day complicated by COVID-19 uncertainty

High school seniors are facing a May 1 deadline to decide which colleges they plan to attend, but the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated what's normally considered a big celebration.

After virtually auditioning for the Tennessee State University band, Hillcrest High School senior Aaliyah Doss said she's unsure if she'll even be able to attend the school.

"I really hope it doesn't come down to that, but I may end up staying home instead and going to a different school out here, rather than paying all that money for out-of-state tuition," Doss said.

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With the pandemic keeping her dad home from work, the Hillcrest High School salutatorian is suddenly wondering how she'll pay for college, and she's not alone.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 25% of American high school seniors now worry they may not be able to afford their top choice school, according to a recent poll by the Art & Science Group.

"A lot of the excitement has kind of transferred into concern and fear," said Robin Vela, a college and career counselor at Hillcrest High School.

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York Community High School senior Caroline Collins is excited to attend the University of Michigan, but she still wonders about the California and Texas schools she couldn't visit.

"I'll never actually know if I would have liked one of those schools better," she said.

Still celebrated remotely this year, National Decision Day is proving inconclusive because even if teens are confident where they're going, they don't know when.

"I would like to just get to school and start learning, but I think it would also be really hard to do it online," Collins said.

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More students are weighing a gap year against the possibility of e-learning this fall.

"I'm a very social person who likes working in groups and collaboratively," said Ronan Doyle, a senior at York Community High School.

The University of Illinois undergraduate admissions director recommends that students reach out to individual schools so they know when those deadlines are coming up.
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