Rolling with the Punches: Attending College During COVID

Learn about some trends in higher education and find out how students, staff and schools are rolling with the punches while navigating college during COVID.

Jayne Sedewitz is about to send her twin daughters to college. Emily at University of Michigan and Lauren at Michigan State. But instead of having the normal kind of anxiety that many parents have when their kids leave the nest, she’s dealing with different feelings completely.

While Emily will have a fairly traditional in-person living and learning experience in Ann Arbor (with PPE and safety precautions), the closure of Michigan State’s campus leaves Lauren at home, at least through first semester.

“I’m feeling a range of emotions by the hour,” says Sedewitz, of Novi, who has a basement full of microwaves, twin sheets and other items that should have been in Lauren’s dorm room. “Everything Lauren looked forward to was taken so abruptly from her.”

Prior to the shutdown of Lauren’s dorm housing, the dorm she was assigned to had been converted into an emergency quarantine dorm. Now, Sedewitz, who says she seems to have more questions than answers, is trying to figure out what’s best for Lauren, as she watches her twin sister have the college experience she dreamed of.

Sedewitz’s family isn’t alone in this. According to Bari Norman, co-founder of Expert Admissions, an admissions advisory firm, there are “long term, massive shifts happening for college-bound students.”

Schools are going test optional

In addition to the changes related to physical location of classes, Norman says more than half of U.S. colleges are officially test-optional admissions in response to canceled ACT and SAT test dates.

“Put more emphasis on grades, essays and recommendations,” Norman advises in a media release. “These are the things within your direct control. Grades and rigor of curriculum were the most important before COVID; COVID has just weighted the importance of these factors.”

Colleges are dipping into their waitlists

Norman also says highly selective colleges, which normally do not accept many waitlisted students, are finding themselves digging deep into applicant pool waitlists, as many students withdrew their acceptance due to COVID-related reasons: finances, desire to be closer to home, or concerns about campus reopenings.

Additionally, the American Council on Education predicts that the number of international students will decrease by at least 25% for the 2020-21 school year.

More students taking a gap year

In recent years, the concept of a gap year — or taking a year off between high school and college — has become rather popular, due to students wanting to work, travel or volunteer. However, Detroit-based college counselor Patrick O’Connor says a gap year is now becoming desirable for would-be incoming college freshman who are seeking to ultimately have the full college experience.

According to a national survey commissioned by the American Council on Education and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, about one in five current students has decided not to go to college immediately after high school.

“With a typical gap year, students have a plan. But now, their options are limited,” O’Connor says. “We are seeing a lot of students sacrifice going to their college of choice and taking online classes at a local community school in hopes they can eventually get the traditional college experience.”

High schoolers missing out on pivotal years

Melissa Gould of Bloomfield has seen these changes impact her son Sawyer, a high school senior.

While Sawyer previously talked about applying to school on the East Coast, he is now looking to attend school locally – which she attributes to the pandemic.

“He missed out on his junior year – a pivotal year,” says Gould, who let Sawyer skip the ACT to not put additional pressure on him. “Online learning was as good as it could have been, but his school didn’t do much to encourage him to look at colleges. He was robbed of this kind of learning.”

For these reasons, Judith Stahl, assistant director of college counseling at Detroit Country Day School and president of the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling, encourages high school students to be proactive reaching out to their school counselor for assistance.

“Students should be proactive in their search for resources and to reach out to have meaningful conversations with both college reps, high school counselors and teachers,” she says.

Stahl also encourages students to check out support and resources available through the Michigan Association for College Admission Counseling or the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Colleges will look and feel different

Stahl says college-bound freshmen need to know that their first year won’t be defined by sporting events and parties, but by masks in public, temperature checks, bans on large gatherings and classes with social distancing procedures in place.

“This will be a bumpy ride this year, but we all need to remain flexible and positive,” Stahl says.

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