When thinking about college life, many questions may come to mind. Is there a soccer team? Does the campus host events to celebrate Diwali and other holidays? What intramural sports are available? Are fraternities and sororities part of campus life?
Due to the pandemic, many of these common questions are changing. There is a renewed focus on campus health and safety as students want to attend a college that shares their values around COVID-19. While coronavirus cases have been slowing at American colleges as vaccinations increase, colleges continue to postpone football games and move classes online due to COVID outbreaks.
All of this means that health and safety are coming to be more significant factors in making a college decision. When you are gathering data on your prospects, be sure to ask the following three questions—ideally in real-time to a college rep at a virtual or in-person college fair.
- What health and safety protocols does your school have? What measures are in place if a student tests positive for COVID-19?
Due to COVID-19, campus health protocols continue to be a concern for both families and universities. According to the CDC, as of March 17, 2021, COVID-19 testing was being provided for 49% of public and private nonprofit four-year U.S. colleges and universities for asymptomatic students. However, only 32% of the colleges providing testing have a protocol mandating testing on a consistent basis.
As a student, your health and safety are top priorities. Being around crowds—whether in a lecture hall, cafeteria, or stadium—increases the likelihood of COVID-19. Therefore, the more preventative measures a university has in place, the less the chance of outbreaks.
Look for schools that have testing protocols and vaccination requirements. Unfortunately, despite the increase in health and safety concerns, many colleges and universities do not mention COVID-19 testing protocols on their websites. (Of the institutions providing testing, only 18% mention COVID testing protocols on their site!) That’s why it’s a good idea to attend an event where you can ask this question to a live representative. Only by getting concrete answers can you ensure you’ll feel comfortable with the health and safety protocols of your preferred college or university.
- Is there a requirement for students to live on-campus their freshman year? If so, what health and safety protocols are in place for residence halls?
When thinking about the college experience, one thing to consider is how many students actually live on campus. Due to the pandemic, shifting family obligations and financial issues mean that more students are living off-campus than ever before. In 2020, over 85% of college students reported living off-campus. This can mean anything from living in an off-campus apartment to living at home.
In Spring 2022, the majority of colleges are continuing to accommodate on-campus living with reduced dorm density. While some universities are stretched to have enough housing, other campuses have had to offer incentives and discounts on dorms they are struggling to fill. This is something to consider when you’re looking into where you will live for your first college semester. Living in the dorms your freshman year can be an easy way to meet new people and make friends. If you want to live in the residence halls, find out what the requirements are regarding vaccinations and mask-wearing to determine if it’s a safe option. If you opt to be a remote learner or live off-campus, you will still have plenty of opportunities to meet fellow students, but you can expect that interactions will be different. You’ll need to make more of an effort to connect to classmates when you’re not there in person, and you should capitalize on attending outdoor campus events whenever you can, classrooms and university buildings will likely have social distancing restrictions.
- Does the campus offer take-out dining options? What COVID-19 safety measures are in place around dining?
While the college dining experience has historically included lengthy meals with friends in the dining halls, this has changed due to COVID-19. Many campuses are now offering to-go meals at designated times to avoid overcrowding and are drastically limiting the number of seats in dining halls. Some universities have gone further. At Cornell, for instance, new systems have been implemented including mobile ordering through OpenTable, increased sanitation, and contactless payment.
If you intend to live on-campus and to get a campus meal plan, visit the dining hall section of the university website to check what COVID-related measures are in place and if picking up meals to go is an option. If you intend to commute, it may be easier to bring your own meals. (And of course, if you’ll be fully remote, you don’t have to worry about campus dining at all!)
Having a better understanding of campus health and safety protocols will help you narrow down your list of colleges. Write down any deal-breakers, and stick to them.