As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe, hundreds of colleges and universities worldwide have cancelled all on-campus events for an extended period of time. This includes information sessions, tours, admitted students days, and the plethora of other events that allow students to make informed decisions on where they will find happiness and success in college, not to mention the travel restrictions necessary to visit in the first place. With National College Decision Day, May 1, fast approaching, students are feeling backed into a corner as they confront the possibility of choosing a four-year home without ever having visited the school’s campus. In response to global shutdowns, colleges must extend their decision deadlines to allow students to make informed, confident decisions that will significantly impact the rest of their lives.
A majority of college acceptances have been flooding in during the past few weeks, with many major institutions not releasing admissions decisions until later this month. Many high school students locally, nationally, and even globally choose to wait to receive all of their offers of admissions before visiting the schools that have accepted them. While this approach is practical, the background of a global pandemic means that these students now will not have the opportunity to visit any universities before they must choose one to attend.
When the coronavirus first began reaching significantly threatening levels, cancellations and travel limitations were thought to only tighten the window for college visits. On March 17, California Governor Gavin Newsom told students not to expect to return to school before summer break, which is well after the May 1 deadline. As COVID-19 continues to spread uncontained and leads to more extended closures, it appears likely that these collegiate events will at the very least be postponed for several months, if not cancelled entirely.
Even if students were lucky enough to have had the chance to visit campus in the past, their experiences are outdated, both literally and in regards to students’ individual evolutions. I, for one, am in a drastically different place with my college decision criteria than when I toured my first campus over a year ago.
Each college has its own traditional way of welcoming admitted students to campus and providing an in-person experience to make an educated decision on where they would most like to attend in the coming years. Without these events which offer students a chance to experience what their life would be like, learn the unique variances between each school, and get a more intimate feel for how they fit into campus life, students will be forced to make a decision – one with heavy academic, social, and financial implications – without ample opportunity to explore their options or understand the college they are committing to.
As one LGHS senior stated, “this is such a time of uncertainty for everyone that making such an important binding decision doesn’t make sense for most people. At this point we’re all just trying to figure out our new normal and trying to decide on a school is even more stressful, especially without the ability to visit a school before committing.”
It is unethical to expect high school students to make a college decision on the standard timeline when every other aspect of life has had to adapt to address the current state of the world. Which college a student decides to go to will ultimately influence their academic and social trajectory in life, and requires an enormous financial commitment. Especially as graduating college seniors’ commencement ceremonies are continuing to be postponed and even cancelled entirely, it is unfair to not show the same regard for student wellbeing to high school seniors finalizing their college paths.
A delay like this is not completely unprecedented, either – just a few months ago, many universities delayed their application deadlines for students affected by natural disasters like the California wildfires. In the same way that a fee waiver, information session, or choice of application platform helps a student have a successful college process, universities must address these extenuating circumstances and provide every student with the ability to be adequately informed before making such a major decision.
Some universities, including George Mason and TCU, have already addressed this crisis and postponed their enrollment deadline day from May 1 to June 1. However, it will require the college system as a whole to address the crisis students are facing and to alleviate some of the stress facing students today. Colleges should not deprive students of the chance to make an informed, self-assured decision about their future; it is critical that universities acknowledge the complications facing the world at this time and ensure that each individual student has the ability to knowledgeably choose the right school for them.