College/Universities: Best Practices During COVID-19
In general, colleges and universities have online resources available to prospective and admitted students. These vary widely, though, from simple Frequently Asked Question (FAQ) web pages to fully-developed systems to connect potential students with the university in various ways. Most universities have been flexible with their admissions requirements, but many still fear the loss of international students who are important to their financial bottom lines. For these students, best practices suggest constant, reassuring communication while accepting more US students to replace what is expected to be lower international enrollment.
Personalize and Customize
- In response to the disrupted admissions process, universities are customizing their admissions in consideration of individual student needs. For example, Cambridge University has encouraged students who have been offered undergraduate admission to keep a log of coronavirus-related disruptions that undergraduate offer holders have faced, such as quarantines and school closures. To facilitate equitable treatment, the university will ask them to send the logs once a fuller extent of the virus' effect is known.
- The University of Connecticut offers admitted students a virtual admitted student experience program that will be customizable based on students' needs.
Answer Frequently Asked Questions
- Almost every university has an FAQ web page devoted to pandemic-related admissions. However, they vary in informativeness and connection. For example, Cambridge University's FAQ page for prospective graduate students notes that the University is not taking calls and that there may be a delayed response to an inquiry form. On the other hand, St. Cloud State University's FAQ page for admitted students offers live chat and email options.
- Almost all universities have canceled or postponed onsite campus visits. However, some have replaced these with virtual visits. For example, Penn State University has a website that offers prospective and accepted students virtual tours, and an accepted student video presentation. The University of Connecticut has a Facebook group dedicated to admitted students, which has live-streamed campus tours and hosts live discussions.
- It is unclear, though, how some universities will execute their planned online visits and registration events for prospective students. For instance, as of March 19, 2020, MIT announced that it is developing "some kind of online delivery" for its prospective students to visit the university. Similarly, St. Cloud University promises "alternate delivery methods" for advising and registration but does not specify when or how it plans to do this. As another example, Northwestern University promises "virtual programming" for admitted students and creative ways to connect with them remotely, but has not provided further details.
- Given that many prospective students may have a hard time meeting application requirements, in light of standardized testing delays and school closures, universities are waiving or delaying some requirements. For example, St. Cloud University has loosened some application elements, such as allowing unofficial transcripts and applications without American College Testing (ACT) test results. Similarly, St. Mary's University's COVID-19 prospective student information page states that the university will accept unofficial transcripts.
Reassure Internationally and Accept Locally
- In general, universities are worried about the pipeline of international students from China, who make up over one-third of all international students in the United States and tend to pay full tuition at their universities. According to an ongoing survey by Quacquarelli Symonds, the fear is warranted, with 35% of surveyed international students saying that their study plans had changed. Of these, over half plan to defer their admissions and over a quarter plan not to come to the United States to study.
- The survey also asked what measures they expected universities to enact and what statements they found most reassuring, which forms a basis for communicating with prospective students to encourage their attendance. This is borne out by examining universities' previous responses to disasters, which show the need for streams of communication that reassure prospective students that they will be safe. In addition, best practices to stem the loss of these students include flexibility (e.g., allowing deferred admission) and empathy (e.g., emotional support during contacts).
- To make up for the expected shortfall of international students, schools will look for domestic students who can pay full tuition and may cut financial aid. This will likely align with an increased acceptance rate to make up for the loss of in-person recruitment events.