The Zimmermans were elated when Jack, their high-school senior son, was accepted to Vanderbilt University — his dream school.
“We were extremely proud. No one from his high school had gotten into Vanderbilt in several years, so we were also shocked,” dad Matt, 50, tells The Post. The New Rochelle family sent a $500 deposit to the Nashville, Tennessee institution, confirming Jack’s intent to join its engineering program in the fall.
A few weeks later, the coronavirus shut down society, replacing campus life with remote learning programs for the foreseeable future. And while students and educators pray for a normal fall semester — Brown University president Christina Paxson recently stated that she is “cautiously optimistic” that campuses can reopen — it’s very possible that Jack Zimmerman and his fellow members of the class of 2024 will begin the “best four years of the[ir] lives” on a laptop in their childhood bedrooms.
“Things are in limbo right now,” says Betsy Woolf, a college admissions consultant based in Westchester.
Traditionally, May 1 is decision day for prospective college students. That’s the national deadline for incoming freshmen to commit to a school and pay a deposit toward their tuition, due later in the summer.
But things are complicated this year.
Some parents are comfortable paying a deposit to “secure their [child’s] spot” in hopes that “things return to normal,” says Woolf. Others are struggling to afford $500 right now — and the looming tuition. Schools are adjusting accordingly: Some are giving students until June 1 to make their decision; others are still asking for commitment now, but accepting deposits later; and some are doing away with deposits altogether.
Meanwhile, kids and their parents are struggling to figure out what the next year — or four — holds. Gap years are now on the table, as are less-expensive local schools. David Stout, the president of Brookdale Community College in Middletown, New Jersey, says that estimates point to a 15% increase in fall enrollment at his and other community colleges in the area.
Staying in-state became a question for Walt Anders, a high-school senior from the Atlanta area. He had long had his heart set on his parents’ alma mater: Auburn University in Alabama.
“We bleed orange and blue,” says his mom, Andra.
But even the diehard Auburn fans seriously discussed sending Walt to the University of Georgia, where he’d been offered a scholarship, when the crisis struck.
Ultimately, “We decided [Auburn] would still be best for him — even if it was online,” says Andra. “But a lot of people are saying they are now sending their kids to state schools instead of their first choices.”
The Zimmermans are toying with that idea, too.
“We want Jack to have the full experience, with football games and campus life,” says his father, Matt. “If they aren’t going back to school, why not just defer for a year and do online class at SUNY Binghamton and save the money? Or he could work on the Biden campaign, or do charity work.”
A year off is appealing to freaked-out teens. Christopher Rim, a college admissions consultant, says about 75% of his senior students have already said they will take a gap year.
“They have said they just don’t want to start in the fall. They want the college experience,” says Rim, whose company Command Education caters to New York-area students aiming for elite schools. “Who wants to pay 80 grand to learn online?”
Not Brooklyn Tech senior Alina Ikhmayes. The 18-year-old was set to attend NYU and live on campus. She was looking forward to soaking up the energy of Greenwich Village and meeting the diverse group of students who flock to the school — experiences you just can’t replicate on a laptop.
“I want to be on campus,” says Ikhmayes, who now plans to defer for a year.
She’s still figuring out what she’ll do with her time. “I would love to volunteer somewhere, maybe do something in politics,” she says.
Whatever the next year holds, she thinks delaying is the right choice.