College Admissions and Coronavirus: Advice for High School Seniors

March 18, 2020

Depending on where you live, your high school may officially be closed for the next couple of weeks or (perhaps more likely) months. This is surely a tough thing to deal with for most 12th grade students who were, up until a week ago, thinking about upcoming milestone events like senior prom and graduation ceremonies. Now, all of these rites of passage hang very much in the balance. It’s natural in a time like this for your teen to feel like things are spiraling out of control and it is important to emphasize the areas in which they still have agency. One such area is making the final decision about where to attend college. Of course, the process of doing so has changed with additional in-person visits having been rendered an impossibility.

How to choose a college without a campus visit

Some students get accepted to their number one choice and put down the deposit the very next nanosecond. Other students, who are still choosing between two or more schools prior to May 1st, will often make a final college visit to see how the campus feels now that everything is more “real.” Unfortunately, this year’s seniors will not get that chance, at least not in a meaningful way. USC announced a cancellation of all admissions events and tours until at least May 3rd. Some schools, like Texas A&M have only canceled tours through early April and will reevaluate at that time. We recommend operating under the assumption that you will not get a chance to visit any college prior to May 1st, instead finding alternative means of evaluating schools. We recommend using the following set of criteria to help make your final choice of which school to attend:

  • Cost– What’s the total cost-of-attendance for four years? How does each college compare when evaluating financial aid packages? What will the potential costs/debt look like if you’re aiming for graduate school?
  • Strengths in desired fields– Which colleges offer strong majors in your desired fields? Students should research course offerings, access to faculty, research opportunities, and recent graduate job placement.
  • Career services– Students should pay special attention to the offerings provided through career services. How does this department assist with internships and job placement? Which companies are recruiting on campus and how often are career fairs offered to students?
  • Outcomes– Graduation rates, job placement, graduate/professional school placement, and average amount of debt.
  • Alumni networks– How strong is the school’s alumni network? An active and generous alumni network can assist undergraduates with access to industry pipelines, jobs, internships, and general networking.
  • Social and extracurricular activities– We tell students to pay particular attention to clubs and organizations, extracurricular activities, athletics, and the characteristics of the nearby town/city. Make sure that these offerings align with your interests and desires.

In order to ascertain the above information, The New York Times recommended various ways for seniors to research their prospective schools in the age of coronavirus including: 1) call/email their high school guidance counselor or an admissions officer; 2) connect with school reps through social media or by video platforms like Skype or Zoom; 3) take a virtual tour and check out each potential college’s student-run newspaper online.

No delay expected in admissions decisions

One area that does not appear to be imperiled is the timely release of admissions decisions this spring. Hopefully the release of acceptance information serves to give your son or daughter a feeling of normalcy and hope amidst the chaos of the pandemic.

Decision Day could be pushed back

Students are typically required to choose the university that they will attend and put down a deposit by May 1st, a day nationally celebrated as “Decision Day.” Oregon State has announced that they will be delaying their deposit deadline until June 1st. Southwestern University in Austin, Texas also moved their deadline a full month into the future. It’s quite possible that other universities will soon do the same as the likely duration of the virus-caused shutdown becomes entirely clear.

New student events are canceled

The University of Pennsylvania just announced that they are cancelling planned events on campus for newly-admitted students. Harvard also canceled their admitted students weekend and will replace it with online events instead. As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the University of Denver planned on going forward with an event for admitted students last Friday but had to cancel at the last second after some families had already boarded planes bound for Colorado. Many schools have committed to record and share footage of classroom and labs, Q&As with professors, and presentations from admissions officers.

“Will I be able to take AP/IB tests?”
In the College Board’s own words: “The AP Program is developing resources to help schools support student learning during extended closures, as well as a solution that would allow students to test at home, depending on the situation in May. Additional information will be posted by March 20.”

The International Baccalaureate states that they are “monitoring the situation closely” and have already extended the deadlines for when coursework in due. However, on the subject of changing the exam deadlines, the organization says that it is “unable to change the May 2020 exam schedule. The IB examination schedule is a global schedule and therefore it would be unreasonable to change it for students who are not affected. Schools can opt to defer to a future session, transfer to an alternative school or organize an alternative venue where appropriate. The IB is continuing to review deadlines and support options it can provide for schools.”

“Will my freshman year start on time?”

After the dust of the admissions cycle settles, this may be the question foremost on the minds of admitted students. While no one can yet predict the length of time that the virus will keep students and faculty physically away from campus, you can rest assured that colleges are swiftly working on contingency plans to move instruction online for as long as it takes to wait out the virus. Schools’ budgets simply would not allow them to cancel an entire semester, but, depending on the trajectory of the pandemic, it is within the realm of possibility that the Class of 2024’s maiden higher education voyage will look different than we would’ve imagined a short month ago.

Valuable Resource

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) has recently posted to its website a comprehensive list of colleges and any admission-related adjustments (e.g. to reply dates, deposit deadlines, admission events, etc.) each has made in light of COVID-19. We encourage seniors to review the list (click here) on a regular basis, as new institutions and updates are likely to be added daily.