Coronavirus upends high school seniors’ college decisions


Xavier Ortega / The DePaulia

Students and professionals alike cross the street. At the Loop Campus, the buildings are integrated among office buildings, restaurants and stores.

The coronavirus pandemic has made the nerve-wracking experience of picking a college all the more difficult for Illinois’ high school students as campus visits are canceled and admission deadlines get pushed back amid the school shutdown over COVID-19 concerns.

Colleges typically abide by a May 1 deadline for undergraduate students to accept admission, but with campuses closed and students cut off from their teachers and counselors, many colleges and universities turned to virtual tours and have extended their enrollment deadlines from May 1 to June 1 to allow students experiencing financial hardship and general anxiety about the outbreak to reconsider their options.

“We are being flexible with students this year,” Carlene Klaas, dean of undergraduate admissions at DePaul University, said in an email to the Chicago Tribune. “We know this pandemic has upended a lot of seniors’ plans for graduation, prom, etc., not to mention their college decisions.”

DePaul University, the nation’s largest Catholic school, is extending their deadline to June 1 (except for its theater and music programs) to allow students more time in case changes in family circumstances necessitate they stay closer to home.

The University of Illinois at Chicago also pushed back its deadline for high school seniors to commit to June 1.

Other schools, such as Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, have not yet announced any deadline changes.

Arun Ponnusamy, chief academic officer at Collegewise, a national educational consulting company, said he’s disappointed schools aren’t coordinating to delay deadlines systemwide.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is also keeping its May 1 deadline. Andrew Borst, director of undergraduate admissions, said the decision came so that the 3,000 wait-listed students can also find out in a timely manner whether they were admitted or not.

Aware that where students decide to go to school will likely be impacted if their families start struggling financially due to the outbreak, colleges and universities have begun preparing for prospective students to have additional questions about their offers as the economy continues to spiral.

Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s admission staff, for example, is trying to reach applicants through video messages and field questions quickly through email and social media.

Patrick Walsh, a past president of the Illinois Association for College Admission Counseling, told the Chicago Sun-Times that colleges will need to be more understanding of the difficulties students are facing right now.

“We all have to be flexible and adapt to the current situation in order to meet our students and families where they’re at,” he said.