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How Colleges Are Adjusting to COVID

As the fall semester approaches, and COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the US, colleges and universities are scrambling to come up with a safe way to offer classes and possibly reopen their campuses. Many schools, including Harvard, have not yet released their plans for undergraduates, leaving incoming students uncertain of what their first semester at college will look like. Some schools have released their plans which include adjusting academic calendars, moving many classes online, and making campus optional.

UMass Amherst will have most of their classes online but is offering residential options at both their Amherst campus and their Newton campus (Mt. Ida) for students who are interested. Students choosing any residential option will be asked to sign an agreement that outlines social distancing and health practices in order to keep the community safe. Part of the agreement also asks students not to leave the region.

Duke University, Notre Dame, University of Michigan, and many others have chosen to adjust their academic calendar and offer a hybrid of in-person and online classes. These schools will be ending all in-person classes by Thanksgiving and eliminating breaks during the fall semester to limit travel. Many schools will be asking students not to leave the city or the region. At Duke, for example, all students will be asked not to leave Durham, NC during the semester, and if they do to self-quarantine upon their return.

Some schools, including Wesleyan, have contacted incoming freshmen to let them know they can defer their admission in light of the uncertainty around COVID-19. While other schools, including Princeton, are not guaranteeing a spot in the next year for incoming students choosing to defer. This excludes students who defer for established reasons including military service, religious study, or health challenges. For other schools, including Columbia University, the deadline to submit a deferral request has passed.

Many of these plans for schools include choices for students-- whether or not to come to campus, or whether or not to defer, leaving students in a difficult situation. What should you do?

If your school is offering a deferral, it is something you can consider. My advice on this is the same as before COVID-19. Deferring or taking a gap year is a good idea if you have a solid plan to do something productive with your time. With many gap year travel programs limited as well, this may be more difficult during COVID-19. I don’t recommend deferring if you don’t have an alternative plan that you are happy with or excited about.

The option of returning to campus is trickier. There is obvious risk in returning to a campus, regardless of the safety measures in place. Each student and their families need to weigh these risks in making this decision. For some students with certain health conditions, a return to campus is not a safe choice for the fall. Others may feel anxious or worried about catching or spreading COVID-19 the entire time, making a return to campus not worth it. Many students may be comfortable with the adjustments their school has made and ready to take on campus life, however different it may be from what they expected.

I know it is a disappointing time for college-bound students across the country. Many did not get to attend high school graduation ceremonies or see their friends for the past several months, and now many remain uncertain of what their first semester at college will look like. Regardless of what colleges are choosing to do and what you choose to do, remember that the first semester of your freshman year is only 12.5% of your time in college. The many changes at schools across the country may make for a less than ideal start to your college career, but you will have many more semesters to make up for it. Hopefully, soon you will get to experience something closer to the typical college experience you imagined.


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