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10 Ways College Students Can Navigate the Coronavirus Outbreak

Josh Moody

Students should know that resources are available.

As the novel coronavirus pandemic rages on, colleges are taking steps to mitigate the crisis that may alter students' lives in other uncomfortable ways, such as upending support systems and forcing students to rethink basic needs. "Campuses are closing and most in a haphazard, confusing way with limited notice. Students are incurring unplanned expenses for travel, housing and last-minute relocation," says Scott Mobley, executive director of The National Society of Collegiate Scholars, which is offering financial assistance to affected members who apply for aid. For college students suddenly thrust into choppy and uncharted waters, here are 10 things they should consider to find their path in perilous times.

Follow health and safety guidelines.

It can be hard for students to learn if they aren't healthy, and a case of the coronavirus may mean classes are no longer a top priority. Students should educate themselves on what to know about the coronavirus and follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC tips include understanding how the coronavirus -- which can cause a disease known as COVID-19 -- is transmitted, washing hands often, not touching your face, avoiding close contact with others, covering coughs and sneezes, staying home if sick, and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. Students should also be aware of the coronavirus symptoms and seek medical help when sick.

Seek out financial assistance.

Some students will surely turn to parents for financial issues caused by the coronavirus, and others may seek out crowdfunding. But the college financial aid office should be one of the first stops. Students can learn how the coronavirus will affect financial aid and what options may be available to them, such as emergency funding. Students can also get answers about federal work-study funding as on-campus jobs are disrupted, or how financial aid may be adjusted if parents or guardians lose their jobs and ability to provide for their students. Other sources may be scholarship organizations or foundations that provide financial support to students.

Ask to stay in campus housing.

As colleges empty the dorms, some students will be able to return home, but that isn't a reality for others. Students unable to travel home may be able to remain in campus housing. Though many colleges are closing campus and shifting classes online, limited exceptions are being made for students to remain, particularly those who are economically vulnerable and international students who are unable to travel home to countries heavily affected by the coronavirus. If a student is denied the chance to stay on campus, there may be an appeals process. If not, students should ask colleges about possible relocation assistance or alternate housing options off campus.

Find free meals on and off campus.

"A lot of students are really worried that they're not going to have access to food," Sara Goldrick-Rab, founding director of The Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice at Temple University in Pennsylvania, said in a webinar on meeting student needs. She encourages colleges to keep food pantries open and for campuses to confer with local food banks, noting that some schools are even delivering meals to students. Hungry students should check with their college to see what is available. Local food pantries and churches may also be able to help.

Pool resources with other students.

Suddenly moving off campus and temporarily back home may require tying up a lot of loose ends. Students have to consider storage for items they either can't leave or can't take with them as well as transportation home. Students should look to their colleges to see if assistance is available, but also be aware of how others on campus may be able to help. At Middlebury College in Vermont, for example, students set up a "mutual aid spreadsheet" to help peers with everything from packing, moving and storage to transportation needs, health care and emotional support.

Have the necessary tools for online classes.

Moving off campus means the many physical resources of a campus may no longer be available to students. Students will need the tools to navigate the online learning environment, most importantly a computer and internet access. Those in need of computers should check with their college, as many schools are making them available as needed. Students should ask about the availability of laptop computers that can be checked out as well as the length of time these can be borrowed. Students without reliable internet access should also ask if their college has Wi-Fi hot spots available, or if there is assistance via the school's technology fund to acquire one, experts say.

Get comfortable with the online format.

More than a third of students took at least one online course in fall 2018, according to federal education data. That suggests many students are familiar with online courses. But the sudden shift online this semester was unexpected. Students unprepared to take online classes should understand how the format works, get comfortable with the learning management system and check technical requirements for browsers and plug-ins. Experts say students would be wise to exercise patience with professors, who are also navigating the quick move to online courses with little lead time.

Check in with remote advisers.

Classes aren't the only thing going online. So, too, are the many other vital services colleges offer such as academic advising. Academic advisers can help students schedule classes, navigate challenging courses and find resources. "Students will meet with (advisers) using a combination of email, phone, text, and video conference platforms," Tiffany Hampton, an advising retention analyst at Eastern Kentucky University, wrote in an email. She adds that the shift to remote advising will help students plan for fall and summer terms while keeping relationships with advisers intact. Students should check their college website for information on how their school is handling advising.

Establish ADA needs right away.

The closing of physical campuses does not relieve colleges of their legal responsibility to meet accommodation requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Office of Civil Rights has made it clear that schools must still meet ADA needs during the coronavirus pandemic. Students who require accommodation should reach out to the ADA office on their campus immediately. Though physical offices may be closed, colleges are still meeting with students through online video chats or by phone. The National Center for College Students with Disabilities has also compiled health and disability resources, including information for deaf or blind students.

Seek out travel guidance for international students.

The fallout of the coronavirus prompts major challenges for international students. The pandemic has hit some parts of the globe harder than others, meaning it may make travel home more difficult for students in the most affected areas. "Students may choose to return to their permanent place of residence or stay on campus, where appropriate social distancing and enhanced preventive health and hygiene measures will be actively encouraged. We urge all students to make the choice that is best for them," Kathleen Gutheil, director of international and transfer admission at Miami University--Oxford in Ohio, told U.S. News.

Find the school for you.

Get more information about how to choose a college, and check out the complete rankings of the Best Colleges to find the school that's best for you. For more advice and information on selecting a college, connect with U.S. News Education on Twitter and Facebook.

How students can stay safe and engaged amid the COVID-19 outbreak

-- Follow health and safety guidelines.

-- Seek out financial assistance.

-- Ask to stay in campus housing.

-- Find free meals on and off campus.

-- Pool resources with other students.

-- Have the necessary tools for online classes.

-- Get comfortable with the online format.

-- Check in with remote advisers.

-- Establish ADA needs right away.

-- Seek out travel guidance for international students.



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