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In autumn 2020, many students began college from a laptop at home rather than moving into dorms and filling lecture halls.

Undoubtedly, the college landscape has been impacted by COVID-19 which is especially true in California as it remains in the purple tier (widespread positive cases) limiting the functions of colleges and universities (COVID19.CA.GOV, 2021). Therefore, the COVID-19 Industry Guidance: Institutions of Higher Education (2020) continues to be relevant as it provides guidelines for a gradual return to in-person higher education.

As a college administrator and consultant, I have implemented the below-noted RISE approach as a tool for families and their students to use as they plan for college through a pandemic. If your student is attending college in California or planning to do so in the future, you may find this approach especially helpful in your journey ahead.

Recognize the change. Help your student understand that their previous vision for attending college may look different as we live through a global pandemic. This means they may not be able to live on campus, they might not have a roommate, their classes may be online, in-person engagement may be minimal, wearing face coverings will likely continue for the foreseeable future, and their college may require them to participate in regular COVID-19 compliance procedures.

Internally reset expectations. It will be important for students to understand what can or cannot be expected from their college experience in the near future. California institutions of higher education currently have campus-specific COVID-19 prevention plans which have altered the college-going experience for most students in California. For instance, your student may have the opportunity to live amongst others in a community but their in-person engagement will likely be limited. They may be able to dine with others but in smaller groups and in designated areas.  Face coverings and social distancing are likely to remain for some time as well. Your student should spend time connecting with campus administrators before returning to campus to get a realistic sense of what their college experience might be like and to help them prepare for that transition.

Seek out support. Managing a new reality and adjusting to new expectations can take a toll on anyone’s well-being. Talk with your student about how they are feeling and help them understand they are not alone. Congratulate them on what they have accomplished thus far amidst a pandemic. Your student’s college experience will likely continue to be impacted by the pandemic so seek out long-term support to help your student manage their current needs and to help them prepare to encounter new challenges ahead. Normalizing the need for more support may help to break down barriers to asking for help with academics as well as personal well-being.

Identify multiple options. Planning for your student to begin their college education journey has likely been filled with discussions about which college to attend, how to manage expenses, living away from home, and which classes to pick. These are important to consider and it will be helpful to maintain realistic expectations. Encourage your student to remain open to multiple options and remind them that their plans are likely to shift through the pandemic. Take time to talk with your student about their ideal plans, parts of that plan might change, and what opportunities might become available given those changes. Being ready, able, and willing to adapt to change will be your student’s greatest strength throughout their college journey.

Engage in the process. It will be important for your student to understand the changing landscape of California colleges amidst the pandemic. Currently, the University of California and California State University systems are planning to increase student numbers on campus for autumn 2021. Therefore, click on the hyperlinks above to learn about their plans and how your student’s college experience may be shaped in the coming months. If your student is planning to attend a private university in California, reach out to them directly regarding their campus plans.

In addition to applying the RISE approach, consider your student’s additional needs as part of the college plan: If your student has chosen a college and has already matriculated, contact the student affairs administration to learn about policies/procedures specific to their campus. If your student is managing medical/well-being issues, seek out advice from your family healthcare provider and work with campus resources to explore options for accommodations. For personalized college coaching, I’m happy to be of service and can be reached at or via Instagram @dr_lisa_caldera. Although many questions regarding the impact of the pandemic on the college-going experience remain uncertain, you’re not alone in this process and are empowered to support your student with college planning through a pandemic.


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About Lisa Caldera, Ed.D.

Born in the San Gabriel Valley but raised in Moreno Valley, CA, Dr. Lisa Caldera is a first-generation college student from a low-income family background. She became the first person in her family to earn a doctorate and dedicated her research to undocumented college student experiences. She serves as the Senior Associate Dean leading a team of case managers who oversee crisis response, support, and resources for all Stanford undergraduates.