How the Coronavirus Affects College Admissions
Colleges are emphasizing virtual tours and other online content as well as extending admissions deadlines.
By Josh Moody, Reporter March 18, 2020
The Coronavirus and College Admissions
EARLY EVENTS FOR admitted students can offer a useful introduction to the college campus, helping students get their bearings and learn more about the many services available to them. But many such programs are shutting down as colleges close due to spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes a disease known as COVID-19.
For students who have been accepted to a college but haven’t made a decision, institutional responses to the pandemic may make doing so harder. If a student hasn’t already visited the colleges where he or she has been accepted, a closed campus likely eliminates the option to do so.
That means choosing a college just got harder.
That’s the case for Katie Benston, a mother of a high school senior and junior in North Carolina. Benston says her son, a high school senior, had already visited a number of campuses but hoped to visit more colleges before making a decision by May 1, traditionally known as National College Decision Day. Now he may have to consider attending a college he hasn’t visited.
“My son is an experiential decision-maker. So for him, being on campus gives him a sense of what the community is like,” Benston says.
She says her son has been accepted at some colleges but is still awaiting word from others, and visits would have helped shape his decision.
The inability to visit each school means it may be harder for the family to find the right fit.
Some colleges have already admitted students, but many of the most selective have not, says Elizabeth Heaton, vice president of educational consulting at Bright Horizons College Coach. The indefinite postponement of college visits means families may be in limbo and wondering about their next move.
The answer, Heaton predicts, is probably a shift to more online admissions events and resources. “A lot of colleges have set up online groups where you can meet other students virtually. My guess is what we’re going to start to see is a lot of things go online.”
As colleges close campuses, many are doing just that. College responses include emphasizing virtual tours, creating more online content for prospective students and extending the deadline to accept offers of admission.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling has encouraged colleges to be flexible with deadlines. One group of admissions professionals – Admissions Community Cultivating Equity & Peace Today – has launched a crowdsourced list of colleges that have changed deposit deadlines from May 1 to June 1 due to the coronavirus scare.
Heaton encourages prospective students to reach out to colleges to see what each is specifically doing to accommodate applicants as the coronavirus outbreak throws a monkey wrench into the gears of the college admissions process. Students should be checking a college’s website, its application portal and their own email. If a student doesn’t see activity, he or she can try calling the college.
These actions matter because many colleges also consider demonstrated interest to be important in determining how likely a student is to enroll if admitted.
Heaton says that the college visit is often an important sign of demonstrated interest. With that off the table, she says colleges will likely understand if a student can’t make a visit, but he or she can still demonstrate interest by getting on the school’s mailing list, opening emails from the college and clicking on links in correspondence. This is important, she notes, because some colleges track such activities.
While it’s no replacement for the physical campus, Heaton also urges applicants to take advantage of virtual college tours. “A lot of colleges these days do have virtual tours available on their website. So it’s not a perfect introduction, but at least you can see it.”
Heaton also suggests that students look at other important aspects, such as course offerings in their major of interest. They should also familiarize themselves with faculty members and what they specialize in, and opportunities available through career service offices.
College social media accounts and admissions forums may also be helpful avenues to explore.