International students will have to navigate new territory in a world defined by public health concerns, social distancing and disruptions.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed everything, including the world of college admissions. For students in India who aspire to study at world-class American institutions, what will the future look like?
Admissions officers at U.S. universities know how dramatically the pandemic is reshaping prospective students’ lives. So, in their work, the teams evaluate applicants not just in context of their schools, their communities and the overall applicant pool, but also in terms of society-shaking, worldwide events.
“COVID-19 adds additional layers of context to consider,” says Kathleen Abels, senior associate director of admission and director of international admission for Haverford College in Pennsylvania. “We know the vast majority of students across the globe have had their schooling interrupted as a result of COVID-19. We will use the information that students and their schools provide to better understand the local impacts of COVID-19 in specific schools and communities.”
To better gain that vital context, Abels specifically recommends that students focus their applications not just on what they’ve accomplished, but also on the why of it. “We know many students’ summer plans like jobs, internships, summer courses and travel have been canceled or postponed due to COVID-19,” she says. “I would urge students to think about why those experiences were how they wanted to spend their time. Students are not admitted to Haverford because of a specific experience, but because of their reflections on experiences, their place in the world. Making space for self-reflection is such an important piece of this process.”
Throughout the pandemic—and looking to the future—admissions teams at U.S. universities will continue to look for creative ways to get to know prospective students and select those who will be offered admission. “While I may not be able to visit India this coming August—as I have had the sincere pleasure of doing for the previous four years,” says Abels, “our goals remain the same—connecting with intellectually curious, community-minded young people and giving them the opportunity to consider a place like Haverford.”
Given the chaos caused by the pandemic, students applying to colleges and universities in the United States should begin their research extra early and keep close track of requirements, deadlines and unexpected changes due to new rules or laws, policies, virus flare-ups, lockdowns and other unpredictable changes in the country.
“Schedule standardized tests, with plenty of time to reschedule or retake the exam for a higher score prior to the application deadline,” advises Miguel Wasielewski, executive director of admissions at The University of Texas at Austin. “Obtain your official academic transcripts and records early, and be sure to have several copies on hand, just in case. Make sure to read through the admissions information and procedures of each institution you are applying to, as requirements vary.”
Even with the most thorough planning, the application process can still get affected by global events. “We are working directly with our applicants to make accommodations when they are struggling to complete a requirement as a result of COVID-19,” says Wasielewski. “Things are constantly changing and we are regularly having to address and reassess the hardships our international applicants are facing—and look for alternative options for applicants to meet the necessary requirements for admission.”
Many questions remain related to travel and immigration in today’s coronavirus-shaped reality. Wasielewski says that robust and regular communication between schools and applicants is “critical in these uncertain times.” Admissions officers will closely watch current events and adapt “to ensure our international applicants have the same opportunities to study in the U.S. as before,” he continues.
A hopeful future
Even though the process of applying to college may seem overwhelming during a pandemic, Wasielewski reminds students that hope is powerful and help plentiful.
“There is a lot of uncertainty ahead, but we are here to guide applicants and students through the process,” he says. “Many colleges and universities are planning to be open for fall 2020. There is much planning going into providing online classes for international students to begin or continue their studies. While this coming fall will be different than previous semesters, it is important to remember that higher education is typically a four-year experience. So, there will be many opportunities for students to be fully immersed in the traditional college experience.”
“We want our international students on campus as much as they want to be on campus,” he continues, “and we are doing everything we can to make that happen. Please don’t give up on your plans to study in the U.S.!”
Michael Gallant is the founder and chief executive officer of Gallant Music. He lives in New York City.