The Class of 2021 navigates COVID, as well as college

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Nicholas Love is a senior at University of Detroit Jesuit High School who plans to study developmental psychology in college.

Did you get the big envelope or the little envelope?

For David Tinsley, a senior at University Prep Science and Math High School, there were a lot of big envelopes.

Tinsley applied to 45 colleges and universities and has received 36 acceptance letters so far. His top choices are all Historically Black Colleges and Universities, though he says he applied to a few in-state schools, too. In an upended year due to the coronavirus pandemic, many high school graduates have had to alter or put off college due to new financial hardships and academic challenges. However, students in Detroit say they are relying on their support systems and preparatory programs to navigate their collegiate pursuits.

Related: As COVID spread, far fewer Michigan high school grads enrolled in college


Tinsley used the Common Black College Application to apply to several schools at one time. The CBCA has existed for 20 years and charges a nominal fee for students to apply to up to 60 HBCUs, reducing the overall cost of college applications. Applications have been known to cost upwards of $50 per school in the past, though many universities reduced or waived application fees during the pandemic.

Nicholas Love, a senior at University of Detroit Jesuit chose not to use the common application route. He applied to fewer schools and only two HBCUs. He applied to the University of Michigan, Howard University, Morehouse College, Georgetown University, Michigan State University and Loyola University Chicago. Like Tinsley, Love has begun to receive several acceptance letters and says college has always been his goal. He wants to study developmental psychology and work in mental health support in the future — which may require more than one college degree.

Love said the pandemic didn’t slow down his educational aspirations, but that the application process, determining the right school and understanding the financial aspects can be “daunting.”

He’s leaned on his mom and mentors about how to pay for school and to learn more about fellowships and tuition assistance. Love said he’s applied for several scholarships to minimize any student loan debt he may incur throughout his academic journey.

David Tinsley is a senior at University Prep Science and Math High School. He’s received over 30 college acceptance letters.

Tinsley’s top school choices are Tennessee State University, North Carolina Central, and Norfolk State University, all HBCUs in the southeast region. Tinsley also applied to in-state schools Wayne State University, Grand Valley State University, Central Michigan University, and Western Michigan University. He says he prefers HBCUs due to the extended support they provide their students to excel educationally and socially. However, he acknowledges attending an HBCU can be costly, especially given their locations.

“I am being logical about it and weighing all of my options,” Tinsley said. “Wayne State and the Detroit Promise is a great option because I can go there virtually for free.”

The Detroit Promise Program allows students who attended junior and senior year in Detroit schools and have a certain grade-point average free tuition for up to four years. This is enticing to many as the national student loan debt is over $1.5 trillion. According to a Brookings report, students from two- and four-year colleges make up the majority of that debt. To alleviate borrowers, the Department of Education has deferred all payments through the end of the summer, meaning no payment is required and no interest is being calculated on those loans for now.

According to the Department of Education, there was more than a 9 percent decline in Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) applications this school year. The FAFSA is used to determine whether students are eligible for government-supported scholarships or grants based on household incomes. The FAFSA application period was pushed from January to October of the previous year to give students more time to apply. At the same time Michigan made community college free for frontline workers and adults 25 and older. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is considering methods to alleviate the national student loan debt that could eliminate up to $10,000 of debt for each borrower.

As the national debate over student loans roils, Tinsley said the cost of education isn’t his only concern.

“If I’m going to spend that kind of money, I may as well go where I want to be,” he said.

Tinsley’s educational interests vary from nursing to business to computer science, and his college decision process is dependent on what the college has to offer him as a student. Tinsley said he wants smaller class sizes, familial-like support, and programs that will prepare him to meet his personal and professional goals. For example, the Men’s Achievement Center and the African American Male Initiative program led him to North Carolina Central. If accepted into the program, he would participate in leadership and financial development programs with a cohort of other male students throughout his tenure at the university.

Given the added cost of out-of-state college costs, Tinsley has applied to several scholarships to reach his educational goals. He also filled out a FAFSA application and has been approved for the Pell Grant, a federal subsidy that alleviates some college costs for students under a certain household income. Tinsley says his mentors and friends from programs like Closing the Gap, YMCA Achievers and the Midnight Golf Program have helped him find resources to support his educational aspirations.

Other organizations are also working to support students’ needs. The Michigan Hispanic Collaborative (MiHC) recently introduced La Puerta (the door, in English), an online tool to support soon-to-be and current college students. La Puerta allows students to apply and review applications at multiple schools, apply for scholarships, connect with current students and graduates, and learn about professional opportunities. The portal also provides information and assistance for parents who may not know the college application process or what to expect while their student is at school.

Anita Martinez of MiHC says La Puerta helps students create an “action plan” and eliminates the uncertainties about college. La Puerta is culturally relevant and has the two-generation approach to help families make decisions while learning together, and even more, she says, MIHC is already a trusted source in the community.

Love, who is also in the Midnight Golf Program, said he, too, has leaned on his mentors to help with planning. The high school senior said the COVID pandemic  has taught him that there is no “definite” or “one right path” to achieve his educational goals, so having a support system is a huge help.

“I definitely have people in my corner talking to me about how to set up my life for the future,” Love said. 

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