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With College Decision Day approaching, graduating seniors feel pandemic pressure

The pandemic continues to affect the college admissions cycle. As College Decision Day on May 1 approaches, high school seniors are dealing with limited options to visit college campuses.

“Some students are thinking, ‘Maybe I should just defer and take a gap year,'” says College Gateways Independent College Admissions Counselor Susan Marshall. “Even if they use social media, you get a feel for what kind of brand they’re selling, but again, it’s a brand and it’s not a gut feeling.”

The uncertainty is a trend Cumberland Valley High School 12th Grade Counselor Kimberly Clements is seeing in students as well, “Students are just shutting down like, ‘I cannot make this decision right now.'” 

The pandemic is adding more stress to an already stressful decision to make for students, who struggle finding the right campus to live and learn on for the next four years without stepping foot on it.

“The hardest thing was being able not to visit the campuses because you couldn’t really get a sense for what the atmosphere is like,” says Abby Reed, a high school senior who has her sights set on a college but has yet to commit to it because she hasn’t been able to visit campuses as much as she would have liked.

“It’s the unknown, which we’ve been in for a long time now,” says Marshall, explaining the concerns she has heard from students. “‘What will campus look like when I actually get there in the fall? Can I go yet this summer and go visit and walk around and get some kind of a feel to the place that I’m going to?'” 

Some colleges are short on financial aid, applications without standardized testing or internships have poured in and school tours are virtual. The class of 2025’s arrival to campus in the fall is the first time many of them will step foot on it, due to pandemic travel restrictions in the past year.

“It’s such a big decision, so making sure that we’re making the right choice is definitely something that takes a lot of thought,” says Reed’s sister, Jordan, a student athlete who has committed to Davidson College. She says not being able to meet her coaches or teammates was a challenge in making the decision, but she’s excited to make her way to campus in a few months.

Students generally are deciding on schools closer to home, or community colleges to save money.

“Either way, it’ll be online for what they’re looking for so they figure might as well get it at a cheaper cost for the first year or two,” says Cumberland Valley High School 12th Grade Counselor Michelle Nitchman.

Marshall continues, “They either were already familiar with those schools that are closer to home or they could at least go there and at least walk around on campus.”

Clements says students are feeling pressured in their decision-making process, “Depending on what’s happening in their own personal life or home life, I think it’s just really difficult to make a decision so they instead just decide to defer that decision another year.” 

Universities are now using open campuses in the fall as a marketing tool.

“In-person is much more valuable because you can make stronger connections with your teachers,” says Abby. 

Jordan adds, “That’s something we really missed about our senior year this year. Just being able to see our friends one last time before we take the next big steps in our lives.”

“They feel like they’re making this decision for the rest of their lives,” says Nitchman. “My biggest advice to them is they’re just looking for their next steppingstone.” 

“It’s what you make of wherever you go that’s important,” Marshall agrees. “It’s not where you go.”

by Samantha York | CBS News

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