ORINDA (KPIX) – The coronavirus pandemic has already ended the school year for most students but it’s also causing major concerns for those heading off to college in the Fall. May 1 is the traditional deadline for students to put down a deposit to reserve a spot at the college of their choice but COVID-19 has thrown a lot of uncertainty into that process.

Charlie Keohane, a Senior at Acalanes High School, had her heart set on attending Middlebury College in Vermont, in the Fall. But assuming there will only be online classes because of the Coronavirus, she can’t really go any farther than the backyard of her Lafayette home.

“It’s a lot of money to be paying and to not have that full experience in being on campus, I don’t know if that’s worth it.”

A lot of students and parents are pondering that same question. That uncertainty is brutal for colleges trying to plan their budgets.

At Dominican University in San Rafael, they’ve extended their deadline to June 1, and will be granting deferments to students who may decide to just take the year off. The result is, at this point the school has no idea how many students may be enrolling for the Fall.

“What we’re finding is parents and students are taking a lot of time to make their decisions this year,” said Admissions V.P. Vickie Alleman. “So, May 1 really won’t be the marker like it has in past years. It’s very different this year.”

But Michelle Myers, an independent college placement advisor in Walnut Creek, says prestigious universities such as Cal or Stanford have plenty of students to choose from and will probably not offer deferments or extend their deadline to enroll. Students who hesitate may end up losing the spot they worked so hard to get. Her advice to clients?

“That they commit and that they go so that they do not lose their spot, even though they’re going to spend 5 or 6 thousand dollars a semester to take online classes at Berkeley,” she said, “because next year they may be able to go.”

And she says students who opt to take cheaper online classes at community colleges will be considered “transfer students” and may have to reapply from scratch.

The federal relief bill has some money for colleges and universities but most of that is designed to support students. Myers says the enrollment drop may cause some colleges to go out of business if they don’t already have healthy endowment funds or some other source of financial support.

The situation is shifting rapidly and policies could change, but Myers says don’t look for cash-strapped colleges to be eager to do so.

“They are only going to react as things happen. They are not getting out in front of this, at least not publicly,” she said. “Everyone’s got a Plan B and C, though, you can guarantee that. They’re just not sharing what that is.”

And for students the problem could get really ugly in 2021, when those who sit out this year try to enroll in four year colleges at the same time a whole new class is trying to do the same thing.

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