The pandemic has wreaked havoc on college admissions and May 1’s National Decision Day, with selective colleges shutting out thousands more qualified applicants this year, longer than ever college waitlists, and a sense of unknown regarding on-campus safety in the wake of Covid-19. In my recent conversation with Leslie Davidson, vice president for enrollment at Beloit College on my podcast, College Admissions Real Talk, we shared strategies for students to pick a college during this unprecedented time.
Q: What are some strategies for students to pick a college during this unprecedented time?
A: Davidson suggests looking up the campus’s Covid-19 response plan, such as this one at Beloit College. Ideally, this plan will include regular asymptomatic testing, mental and emotional support for students who are in quarantine, and show a record of “frequent, proactive, and transparent” communication in responding to the situation. The campus response should also include the broader campus community beyond students, which also includes families, alumni and the college’s surrounding cities or towns.
Q: Where can you find these plans?
A: I, Dr. Legatt, suggest that you check the College Crisis Initiative, which is hosted by Davidson College (no relation to Leslie Davidson). This website tracks and reports on metrics like colleges’ modes of instruction (in-person or online), testing protocols, and graduation rates.
For example, in the 2020-2021 academic year, the student-to-faculty ratio for in-person instruction was more favorable for in-person than for online instruction and smaller colleges were more likely to hold in-person classes.
Thankfully, more and more campuses are announcing their plans to return to in-person instruction this fall. Students and families in the process of choosing colleges can use the individual colleges’ websites as well as the College Crisis Initiative dashboard to understand the variation in Covid-19 responses and plans.
In addition, I advise prospective college students to speak with current college students to get the inside scoop beyond broad scale communications. In the absence of connection with a current student, students and families can use articles in colleges’ student newspapers to get a vibe for how students are experiencing campus life during these challenging times.
Assess Culture Fit
Q: How do students assess their culture fit for the desired school in times when they cannot attend the campus?
A: Current high school seniors have had a particular challenge in assessing culture fit on campuses, says Davidson, since they have had to explore campuses from a distance.
She advises that students and families assess culture fit based on the college’s communications. Pay attention to tone and content of the communication around the Covid-19 response, says Davidson. Has it felt appropriate to the times? Has the college demonstrated creativity in showcasing the campus remotely
Q: Is there any other way to navigate the school’s culture and its fit for the student?
A: The best way to assess culture fit is by speaking with students and faculty one-on-one about their experiences during and before Covid, so that you can assess your own preferences. Despite the challenges that you and your colleges have experienced, you want to pay attention to not only how the college is helping students to succeed in the present but also how it helps them to prepare for the future.
Says Davidson: “You [students and families] have had an opportunity to learn about colleges from the way they've handled an unexpected challenge. Look for places that have leaned in and used challenge as an opportunity to innovate. Look for places that are strengthening the connection between college and career at a moment of profound economic uncertainty.”
Q: What if I’m still unhappy with my college application results?
A: The National Association of College Admission Counseling is publishing a growing list of colleges that will accept applications for fall enrollment. If you’re not satisfied with your current college options, consider putting in an application for something completely new and different.
Assessing a college’s purpose, values and fit is particularly important in these trying times. Use this challenging time as an opportunity to thoughtfully assess your college list and future goals to ensure that your educational, professional and personal needs are met. As I discuss in my book, Get Real and Get In, paying attention to who you are and what you want from life will give you the best edge in college admissions and in getting to where you want to go.