By Kate Selig
Just a few months ago, many prospective admits’ plans were simple: Wrap up senior year, enjoy the summer and then attend the college of their choice in the fall.
Coronavirus has thrown all that into disarray. Students still deciding between colleges who planned in-person visits now have to settle for virtual admit weekends, like Stanford’s. Senior-year disruptions have moved socializing and learning online. Some students are even considering a gap year if conditions do not improve by next fall.
Sidhart Krishnan, a senior from San Jose, Calif., deciding between Princeton and Stanford, said he had been banking on a visit to make the call.
“I wanted to meet as many people as I could there,” he said. “Now that that’s no longer an option, I just have to reach out to as many people as I can.”
Aditi Talati, a senior from Fremont, Calif., deciding between Stanford and MIT, said she had been lucky to have been accepted early, which had given her the chance to meet other admitted students in person months ago at events like a boba excursion to Shoreline Park.
She said she was still looking forward to virtual admit weekend, especially smaller calls between groups of students and clubs.
“I’m hoping that we’ll still be able to get a feel for the school,” Talati said.
Some prospective students took it upon themselves to help coordinate these smaller group interactions. Lila Shroff, a senior from Mercer Island, Wash., said that she and a few other prospective students hosted a Zoom call coordinated through Facebook that drew over 70 people.
“Getting a sense for the people that you might be spending four years with is a really, really beneficial thing,” she said.
Shroff added that the potential awkwardness from socializing virtually with near-strangers was reduced by the shared experience of committing to attend college amid a pandemic.
“Being able to feel that strong community online makes me encouraged that once I get to campus in person, it’ll be all that much better,” Shroff said.
Other prospective students turned to YouTube. Rhythm Garg, a senior from Texas deciding between Stanford and MIT, jokingly cited Stanford YouTuber Arpi Park as one influence.
“When you’re talking to your friends [about college], there’s obviously going to be some bias,” Garg said. “Being my friends, I hope they want me to come to the same school. On YouTube, people explain things a little more objectively.”
Haley Stafford, a senior from Logan, Utah, said her older sister had put her in touch with Catherine Goetze from Cath in College.
“She doesn’t sugarcoat things,” Stafford said, explaining she had asked Goetze questions ranging from if a bike was necessary to whether Stanford was a bubble.
In addition to seeking out information about colleges, prospective students — many of whom said they had too much free time after their senior year moved online — said they were taking up a variety of activities, ranging from online math courses to stand-up comedy.
Krishnan, who characterized his senior year as “kind of over,” said he had turned to online programs like Stanford’s Euler Circle with his newfound free time to continue learning in preparation for college classes.
“Both [Stanford and Princeton] are very academically rigorous,” Krishnan said. “I definitely have to make sure that I keep learning.”
Stafford added that watching students introduce themselves in the class of 2024 Facebook group was giving her “imposter syndrome.”
“I’m from a very rural school two hours away from our state’s capital, and we have very few opportunities for anything,” Stafford said. “Seeing people say, ‘Oh, I interned with my legislator as a sophomore,’ is a lot. I’m afraid of them.”
Stafford said coronavirus had been particularly disruptive to students at her high school, which is a Title I school. A Title I school has large concentrations of low-income students that receive supplemental funds from the federal government.
“Not a lot of people have food, internet or computers, so it’s really hard for us to adapt,” Stafford said.
All prospective students interviewed said they were either considering taking a gap year if fall quarter was moved online, or knew other people who were considering it.
“I don’t want to take classes online,” Stafford said. “If I wanted to go to an online university, I would go to the University of Phoenix.”
However, Krishnan said that even if either university went online in the fall, he would not plan to take a gap year.
“Losing the ‘college experience’ would be kind of bad,” Krishnan said. “But at the end of the day, college is about education. I’d still attend.”
March 18, 4:55 p.m. PDT: This article has been updated to reflect that Garg was joking about Arpi Park being an influence.
Contact Kate Selig at kselig ‘at’ stanford.edu.