Students face a rise in difficulties with the college selection process


It’s that time of year for senior Whitney Currie: cranking out the common app, taking the SAT or ACT, and crossing fingers in hope of a dream school extending an invitation. Unfortunately, for many students–Whitney included–dreaming of the ideal school doesn’t exist because they’ve never been there.

“[The college selection process was more difficult],” senior Whitney Currie said, “because you didn’t get the hands-on experience of the school and its atmosphere. You only had what they offered online.”

College visits are yet another thing being tainted by COVID-19.

As the appropriate time to select a college nears, Whitney faces some unusual problems due to the absence of in-person touring and visiting. Even with informative zoom calls, online webinars, and virtual tours, real life college experience is seemingly too difficult to replicate through a screen.

Unless students had the foresight or fortuity to have already seen the campuses they are interested in, counselor Kyle Perkins claims that odds are, they will not have the luxury of seeing them prior to picking one at all. 

“There were [in-person tours this fall],” Perkins said, “I knew some of the smaller schools were still doing them. I heard [of] students doing in-person visits to Calvin [University] or Hope [College], but I think honestly most of those are now done. I don’t think any of those schools are; I think they’re all locked down.”

This is yet another challenge for students, and frankly, much harder to face than how to celebrate a birthday, Homecoming, or other milestones being marked non-traditionally; they are trying to anticipate how the next four years of their life may look.

Though it’s hard to capture the ambiance of a school without being there, Perkins presents the fact that colleges are providing online supplements in an effort to make the transition easier for students. 

“Some schools are doing some really unique things like virtual tours, as well as additional virtual meetings with faculty or current students—things like that,” Perkins said.

In addition to virtually getting a better grasp of desired schools, students are also being encouraged by Perkins and other counselors to even just simply do drive-bys on campus for schools that are close by.  

However, despite virtual tours and videos depicting campus life, it’s hard for senior Aidan O’Meara to experience the culture of any individual college.

“I think it’s pretty hard to get a feel for a place without really being there,” Aidan said, “so I think that part is kind of hard to recreate.” 

In many situations with students committing to schools for athletics, coaches and new teammates were able to reach out and provide more insight on the college experience. This type of collaboration made Whitney’s college selection process smoother.

“It was [hard to grasp the ambience of a school], Whitney said, “I was personally able to talk to my coach and teammates from Northwestern University, so I had a little feel for the ambiance, but I wasn’t able to get the full experience.”

As colleges and universities reopened this fall, many became hotspots for transmission of the virus. By the fall of 2021, ideally these schools will better understand the dynamic of campus coronavirus transmission so they can be better equipped for the incoming class.

While that may be the case, it’s still no wonder an increasing number of students are considering a gap year or community college next fall in spite of all the uncertainty.

“I think what we’ve seen the biggest pickup or the biggest number in [is] students considering community college,” Perkins said, “we had a lot of seniors in last year’s graduating class that went down that road, and this year, I’m hearing a lot of students that are kind of thinking that.” 

No student wants to let go of attending their desired college, but based on the previous choices made by the graduating class of 2020, and the current state of the pandemic, families will have to make prudent decisions as to what’s the next best step.

With the costs of tuition and the increased restrictions on travel, many students are seeing the myriad of reasons to stay close to home. 

“I think [community college is] a route that maybe I would go,” Aidan said, “because it makes sense to do your gen eds [general education] that way, but, at the same time, going and being on campus would be cool too. If the COVID situation does not improve, I would more heavily consider that option.”

COVID-19 is changing the looks of the immediate future, and in some cases, to the extent where many seniors may have to take a blind leap of faith in picking their college.

“I think it [the pandemic] probably has [made my college selection process more difficult],” Aidan said, “because I know I probably won’t be able to see the college campus where I will end up attending unless I’ve already been there because of COVID numbers. I think it’s harder; not actually being there makes it different.”