7 Ways COVID-19 Could Change the College Experience

No global crisis has impacted students and colleges as much as the coronavirus pandemic. Since spring, students have been trying to make the most of the situation through online classes and virtual graduation ceremonies. But for incoming students, the big question remains: What will the college experience look like this fall and beyond?

From living on campus in cramped dorm rooms to participating in bustling career fairs and scoring internship opportunities, COVID-19 is affecting every aspect of higher education. Here are some potential ways the coronavirus pandemic could change colleges and universities in the coming months and years.

  1. Zooming’ Towards Virtual Everything

One of the more likely outcomes of COVID-19 is the continued migration towards virtual experiences. Many students have been taking online courses since the spring to avoid unnecessary face-to-face interaction, and this is expected to continue into the fall semester unless the situation changes significantly in the coming months.

Many college campuses are also hosting virtual campus tours via Zoom to help students get a “feel” of a campus before they attend. These virtual tours may provide several advantages for students by allowing them to ask questions in real-time and see more of the campus than they would have originally been able to on foot.

2. A New Dorm Norm

Living in dorm rooms and sharing a communal bathroom with other students is a traditional part of the college experience. But in the time of COVID-19, local campuses are scrambling to rethink living situations for students to comply with social distancing. Units that once housed up to four students will likely be limited to two at most, while Greek houses could also be severely downsized.

Speaking of Greek life, the big parties and in-person events may be largely replaced by Netflix viewing parties and virtual game nights until a vaccine becomes available. Sorority and fraternity recruitment will also likely take place online, which could be a tough adjustment for Greek houses.

3. Top Colleges Becoming More Accessible

One silver lining of COVID-19? Getting into your first-choice school may be easier and more affordable. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, postsecondary enrollments are down 0.5 percent, marking a continued decline that is worsening due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many students who are on waitlists for highly selective institutions are getting into the college of their choice.

Colleges are also offering steep discounts and more scholarship opportunities to help ease the financial burden of higher education during this time of hardship. In fact, you may be able to negotiate financial aid and scholarship money. Why not give it a shot? The worst they can say is no.

4. ‘Au Revoir’ to Study Abroad Experiences

Study abroad programs are another quintessential part of the college experience that many students enjoy. But with the State Department warning against international travel, the future of these programs is still uncertain.

When the pandemic started, it was difficult enough to bring students home from different countries. Rather than risk international travel, some study abroad organizers are looking into different options for students who wish to gain worldly experience. These options may include virtual international internships and virtual exchange programs to help students develop their skills while making international connections.

5. Exploring Gap Year Options

Other students are scrapping the idea of study abroad experiences altogether and taking a gap year, but even that option looks different in the time of COVID-19. The typical gap year experience includes things like traveling abroad, volunteering, and career exploration through internships and paid work. What can young professionals do in their spare time if they can’t travel or find career opportunities through in-person internships?

One possible answer could be to take advantage of remote internships. Some organizations and businesses are adapting their internship opportunities to the virtual world, allowing young professionals to gain the critical experience and skills they need to further their careers. While in-person internships are often preferred for building close connections, remote opportunities could be the next best option for students.

6. A Surge in Community College Enrollment

Since the coronavirus pandemic, community colleges across the country have been seeing massive increases in enrollment. Why the sudden increase? One reason could be that students want to attend a community college that is located closer to home, allowing them to live safely off-campus.

Another possible reason comes down to price. Times are hard right now, and community colleges are generally more affordable than four-year universities. Students who may have paid more for the traditional four-year college experience are thinking twice about their decision now that COVID-19 has completely disrupted campus life.

7. The End of Standardized Testing

Standardized testing had problems long before coronavirus threw students and colleges into turmoil. Opponents of standardized testing argue that a student’s SAT and ACT scores don’t define them—that poor test takers and underprivileged students suffer unfairly from this form of testing.

Some schools have decided to suspend the requirements for college entrance exams due to the pandemic, and many people hope that the change will become permanent. If standardized testing ends across the board, colleges may choose to examine a student’s full profile instead, including their volunteer work and extracurricular activities.

Entering a New Phase

There is little doubt that the college experience will be different come fall. Students may be required to be tested before they arrive on campus. Classrooms will likely enforce social distancing rules. Institutions are reimagining on-campus experiences such as career fairs and freshman orientation. Things will be different, but like always, we will find ways to adapt and overcome. For more resources about how to stay connected while social distancing, check out Tallo’s Covid-19 Resources Guide.