Thoughts on Freshman Year 2020
Since the pandemic struck, I have been silent on social media regarding the world of college admissions. It’s not that I haven’t had thoughts, opinions and theories about how COVID-19 will affect things, but the landscape has been cluttered with those. And, it seemed that things were changing so rapidly that what seemed right one week was wrong the next.
Well, I think we all need to get comfortable with the inability to make any specific plans regarding the physical aspects of freshman year 2020. For graduating seniors, almost every college and university hopes to open physically in the fall, possibly pushing their start date earlier or later depending upon their estimates of what the virus will do. The Chronicle of Higher Education maintains a data-base of colleges’ fall plans; at this point any decisions other than remaining online for first semester strike me as highly speculative (https://www.chronicle.com/article/Here-s-a-List-of-Colleges-/248626).
The President of the University of Michigan, an immunologist by training, recently stated that his massive campus will not physically open unless it is as safe for kids to be on campus as it is for them to be at home. He also feels that if a college does not open at the beginning of the year, conditions won’t change enough during the school year to justify opening at all (https://on.wsj.com/2AciZmD). My view is that incoming freshmen will not know for certain if they will be on campus in the fall until they actually step on campus. And, all it will take is a campus or local outbreak to send everyone home again.
I recently talked with the parents of a student who is set to begin freshman year in August. Their daughter is firmly committed to attending college in the fall; they are not so sure that’s the best idea. We discussed the option of a gap year, the idea of which is also cloudy because of the pandemic. Will any gap year programs run? I suggested the option of the student staying home in the fall and either working (if that is even possible) or undertaking an appealing project that is large enough in scope to satisfy a college’s wish that the student’s time will be well spent. By spring, virus concerns may have changed enough for the better that gap year programs will be more available, maybe especially in the Southern Hemisphere where our winter is their summer. Of course, it also is possible that their daughter would be stuck at home for the year.
I think the second best advice I gave the parents was to talk with a gap year specialist, such as the Center for Interim Programs (www.interimprograms.com) or Taylor the Gap (www.taylorthegap.com). The best advice I gave them? Sit down with their daughter and lay out the best and worst scenarios for committing to school in the fall as well as for taking a gap year. Then let her decide. She knows herself best, and this coming year was to be her first big step into independence. The decision should be hers.