HESC recently sat down with representatives from New York State’s public and private colleges to discuss what students should expect from their college experience this fall, and how they can stay on top of both their academics and financial aid. Representatives from the State University of New York (SUNY), the City University of New York (CUNY), the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (cIcu), and the Association of Proprietary Colleges (APC) provided valuable insights for New York’s college students.
Here’s what they want you to know.
What will the Fall 2020 semester look like for me?
Colleges throughout the State have begun communicating their plans for the fall to their students and recommend that students check their campus email frequently to stay informed of the most current information and instructions.
While plans for reopening vary from school to school, many have indicated that they are preparing for classes that combine in-person and virtual for hybrid instruction. CUNY, for example, is currently planning in-person meetings for certain types of classes, like those which include science labs and use of professional equipment, theater, performing and studio arts classes, and clinical placements.
Some colleges are changing their academic calendar – starting the fall semester earlier, foregoing a fall break, shortening the length of the semester and ending the term before Thanksgiving, or even expanding the term over a longer period of time to minimize the number of students on campus at any one time.
On some campuses, only certain cohorts of students will be allowed on campus at one time. For example, first-year students and seniors may be on campus during the fall semester, while other students sophomores and juniors attend classes remotely. Another model divides undergraduates into two groups, that rotate on campus learning with remote learning every quarter.
What options or resources will available for me if I’m not doing well in a class?
All colleges want you to succeed and offer assistance in a variety of ways to help you do just that. You can meet with your professors during virtual office hours to get a better understanding of their expectations and advice on boosting your grades. Your academic advisor will be able to tell you what resources are available on campus, which may include tutoring by faculty, teaching assistants or student peers, reading, writing and math labs/centers, and other academic support services, which may look somewhat different this fall but are still available.
Transitioning to college-level work can be a struggle for entering freshmen and returning students alike, so never be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is smart, and the sooner you reach out for help, the better. SUNY recommends that students seek help early in the semester so that they can get back on track as fast as possible. Some students receiving financial aid may be negatively impacted if they fail to maintain a minimum grade point average, so invest in the many resources your college makes available. You won’t be alone.
What will dorm life be like?
Colleges with residence halls are also making accommodations to ensure student safety outside of class. According to cIcu, private colleges are reducing student density by converting rooms to singles or doubles, installing sanitizing stations and barriers on dorm floors, following recommended guidance, and spacing out meal times. Some colleges are grouping students into cohorts, with each cohort taking classes together and living in the same area in a residence hall.
Colleges with students who do not live on campus have developed cohort schedules as well.
Schools cross the state, will continue to make academic, social and other services available for students, virtually and in other new ways, to promote student success. APC schools, for example, will continue support service that began in the spring term as students transitioned from in-person classroom to remote learning.
How can I prepare myself for this fall?
SUNY representatives stress the importance of reviewing all of the communications you’ve received from your college about the upcoming year as it will provide you with information on what to expect regarding housing, meals, course participation, ways to stay healthy, and how to comply with coronavirus guidelines.
Many schools have created dedicated webpages to keep students informed, and if your school has one, you should visit it regularly for updates. For example, CUNY’s Continuity for Students webpage, https://www.cuny.edu/cuny-continuity/cuny-continuity-for-students/, offers resources, tools and tips to assist students with their academic continuity and their well-being.
What should I do as a new student just starting college?
New students should learn as much as they can about their college before starting the school year by participating in orientation activities to meet other students, campus staff and instructors. Virtual and in-person orientations will also provide new students with information about the many resources available on campus, such as libraries, tutoring, writing and other resource centers, the financial aid office, the IT center, and the student affairs office. You will also learn what the changes have been made to these resources as colleges comply with New York State and CDC coronavirus guidelines.
If you will physically be on campus this fall, become familiar with all your college’s safety requirements. And, once you’re on campus, be sure to follow them. According to cIcu “It’s not only the right thing to do, it is also a social justice issue since following health and safety protocols will protect you and others who are most vulnerable.”
Why is the drop/add date important for my financial aid?
At the beginning of the term, you may decide for any number of reasons, to change your class schedule. Each college has a set period of time – commonly called a Drop/Add Period (private colleges), Program Adjustment Period (SUNY) or Financial Aid Certification Enrollment Status Date (CUNY) – when students may drop and/or add a class.
If you are receiving financial aid, your college will report your credit and course information, as of this deadline date, to both the State and federal government agencies that administer your financial aid. These agencies determine whether you meet your financial aid award requirements based on the number of credits and courses you were enrolled in as of that date. For programs such as the Excelsior Scholarship and Enhanced Tuition Awards scholarship, for example, you must also complete a specific number of credits each year to retain your financial aid award.
Any changes you make during the drop/add period must be done carefully. Before taking any action, know when your school’s drop/add deadline is and always check with both your academic advisor and financial aid advisor to make sure that any change in enrollment does not affect your current or future financial aid eligibility.
You should also know that dropping a course after the drop/add deadline can impact your academic transcript, billing and financial aid. For example, you may still be billed for a class you dropped after the deadline or your change in enrollment could affect your financial aid awards.
Drop/add dates vary from college to college, but they are generally in the first 2 to 3 weeks of the semester. Be sure to check your academic calendar or ask your advisor about the date early so you have time to make decisions.
Why do the courses I take matter for financial aid?
To maintain your NYS financial aid, you not only need to pass your courses, you must also be sure that the courses you take are counted toward your degree program.
Most NYS financial aid programs require full-time enrollment in their program of study – at least 12 credits at a semester school. (The Excelsior Scholarship and Enhanced Tuition Awards require completion of 30 credits per year.)
If you take a course that is not required for your degree program, that course may not be counted toward the required 12 credits. Examples of coursework that may not be required include courses repeated to improve grades and courses that are for an optional minor or second major. If you wish to take a non-required course during a semester, in addition to that class you will also need to take at least 12 credits of required coursework to maintain full-time status for NYS financial aid.
What if I don’t have a major yet?
Students attending college for the first time do not need to declare a major immediately. You may take courses that are required for all students, such as general education or core requirements.
The time you must declare a major depends on your student year status. If you earned many credits while in high school and they are accepted at your college, you may reach the status earlier.
- If you are in a two-year Associate’s degree program, you must declare your major no later than the beginning of the first term of your second year or when you have enough credits to be considered a second-year student, whichever is earlier.
- If you are in four-year Bachelor’s degree program, you must declare your major in the first term of your junior year or when you have enough credits to be considered a junior, whichever is earlier.
How can I best determine the impact of changing my major on my financial aid and my college plan in general?
College is about finding out what you do best, discovering new areas of interest, and honing in on the skills you need to succeed in your future career. If you’re just entering college, you may not have chosen a major yet. It’s also perfectly normal for college students to change majors. In fact, according to insidehighered.com, almost one third of first-time college students choose a major and then change it at least once within three years.
No matter where you go to college, you should check your college website, catalog and other resources for degree and major requirements, and discuss your ideas with both your academic advisor and financial aid advisor before changing your major and/or selecting a new major. While you should pursue the field that is the right fit for you, changing your major may impact your academic schedule and/or your financial aid awards as well.
SUNY, for example, recommends that students wait until after the semester has ended to make a change, and speak to your financial aid counselor for information specific to your situation.
CUNY students have two online resources available to help them determine the impact of a change in major: the CUNY FACTS System, which specifically measures the transcript information against the rules for maintaining a NYS Aid award to predetermine award eligibility for the applicable term; and Degree Works, where students can find their general education requirements, electives and major courses and grades recorded.
cIcu urges students to get to know their academic advisor, who can answer individual questions about program planning and scheduling and help prioritize responsibilities.