Newfield High School senior Gabby Pegg applied to 17 colleges and universities and was about to tour a few — including Harvard and Yale — before making her decision where to attend.
But with campuses closed nationwide because of the coronavirus, Pegg, 17, like thousands of other high school seniors who have yet to commit to a college or university, will have to make her choice from a distance.
"There is only so much a virtual tour can show you," said Pegg, of Coram, who attends high school in the Middle Country district. "It can't show you the teaching style or the peer environment, and if these next few years are supposed to determine the rest of my life path, I want to make sure I am in the right environment and making the right decision. But I don't know if I can get that through a virtual tour."
High school seniors typically make their commitment around May 1, but many colleges and universities have extended that deadline to June 1 — and some are prepared to go beyond that. The State University of New York system on Friday extended its deadline to June 1.
Colleges and universities nationwide currently also implementing distance learning for students and dealing with other issues, such as figuring out how to reimburse displaced students for housing and other costs. Michael B. Horn, of Lexington, Massachusetts, who has authored and co-authored multiple books on education, said uncertainty abounds for higher education nationwide.
“Families don't know what they'll be able to afford, and there's no certainty that students will be able to live together on college campuses in the fall,” said Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation and a distinguished fellow at the nonprofit think tank.
However, schools that are flexible, display empathy and understanding of what students need in college, and show "parents how they will get value for their money, could go a long way toward helping students feel comfortable committing to a school," he said.
About 400 prospective students signed up for a Hofstra University virtual tour March 22. High school seniors chatted online with Hofstra students, faculty and deans, and took a virtual tour of campus.
“What we are looking to do is to change every form of engagement,” said Sunil A. Samuel, assistant vice president of Admission and Enrollment Management at Hofstra. "It is still face to face, but in a virtual environment.”
With the coronavirus expected to overwhelm hospitals, a temporary medical site will be set up on the SUNY Old Westbury campus. Officials there have moved in-person events to other formats and hosted a webinar for admitted students, spokesman Michael Kinane said.
At Molloy College in Rockville Centre, school representatives have been calling each of the 2,500 accepted students personally to give them information before they make their final decision. They also have created a website just for admitted students and are planning virtual accepted days for each of the college’s four schools, spokesman Ken Young said.
Adelphi University has made admissions counselors available through several platforms, including Google Hangouts and Zoom. The school will host a virtual spring open house April 26 featuring interactive chats with key offices, faculty and current students, as well as presentations from various programs.
Centereach High School senior Laura Diaferia, 17, was recently accepted to Long Island University in Old Brookville, her top school.
"They are making virtual tours and informational videos to kind of make up for closing campus, which is super helpful," she said.