Distance Decisions

College decisions become even more complicated with social distancing and travel bans. Three seniors write about their personal dilemmas.


These are challenging times, but they certainly bring to light the silver linings and moments of gratitude. For example, it is so obvious to me now that one plus side of getting waitlisted at numerous schools is that those are numerous schools you don’t have to worry about visiting! At this point last week, I had been accepted to and could afford two schools on my list. I wasn’t expecting to get into any of the other schools I was waiting on, and so I assumed that I would be choosing between those two. When mulling over the options in my bed, trying to fall asleep and stressing about the decision I was waiting to hear the following morning, I was leaning towards Grinnell College. Grinnell sounds like a lovely place. It’s a small liberal arts school with pretty brick buildings and a great reputation. The only drawback was that I hadn’t visited, and Grinnell College is in Grinnell, Iowa, a place you’ve never heard of because it’s in the middle of nowhere and is in Iowa. Committing to four years in the middle of nowhere in Iowa is pretty daunting when you’ve never visited, but that was what I thought I would be doing. I took a virtual tour of their campus online, and planned to reach out to alumni from The Mountain School (where I’m an alum) to see if I could ask some questions to students of Grinnell. Before falling asleep, I stalked the college’s Instagram page. I was realizing that there are a lot of resources to make a decision from afar, and because admissions offices are probably just as stressed as all of us, they are ready and willing to answer questions and help you decide.

The next morning I ended up being accepted to Middlebury, a college that I had visited and loved. So, I’ll be in Middlebury, Vermont next year, and I’m grateful that things worked out and I can make a choice I feel secure in. But when first looking at colleges, I really did want to get out of New England. Now, I’m not bothering with waitlists for schools I haven’t visited (even if they were top-choices for me before), and as I spend so much of this time with my family, relying on them so heavily, I want to be close. The coronavirus is forcing us to change, to think about things differently. And while it seems incredibly frivolous to be worrying about college right now, it makes a lot of sense to me. We gain normalcy by doing what we would normally be doing these days, whether that’s showering or checking applicant portals. And thinking about the next four years is a reminder that this isn’t forever, that although things will change, life will go on, and that’s something to look forward to.     


COVID-19 and all the stress surrounding has essentially magnified every existing anxiety I had about college decisions. Throughout the college process, my approach has been pretty relaxed. I applied to a range of schools and even after visiting and researching them, I really didn’t have a top choice (although really, I didn’t allow myself a first choice because of my fear of being rejected—or even worse, being accepted but unable to afford it). But these past couple of weeks, as I saw my options narrow into a few schools, the anxiety set in. I had never visited several of the schools I was accepted to, and at this point, I never would before making my decision. I had gone to see others over the summer, but now, as I was forced to actually weigh out their pros and cons, I was unable to remember what I even thought of the campus, the tour, the surrounding town. Each rejection letter stung, but each acceptance just added another aspect to an already paralyzing decision. Now this all is not necessarily unique to our current, semi-apocalyptic situation, but COVID-19 manages to add even more considerations and sources of stress. With everything going on in our world right now, do I really want to go far away for college? I was always conflicted about this, even as I applied to a number of midwestern schools, but now I feel like I have to wonder if another pandemic hits, do I really want to be stuck in Grinnell, Iowa? If I don’t want to go far away, that essentially eliminates three of my options. With all the current financial instability, a good aid package is more important than ever. Of course I never wanted to take out a lot of loans, but in the current economy large amounts of college debt seem even more crippling. 

In a time when everything feels so scary and unpredictable, it’s hard to make a decision that feels like it will impact the rest of my life.

Something else that has emerged as I found out about college decisions: as much as I don’t like to admit it, I want people to be impressed when I tell them where I’m going. Not that I need to go to Harvard or anything, but I want to go somewhere that will make people think I’m smart. I realize that this is shallow and egotistical, and honestly if being impressive was my goal I picked the wrong schools to apply to. But now, when thinking about where I want to attend I need to balance financial and geographical aspects, my actual preferences for the schools, and my pride. In a time when everything feels so scary and unpredictable, it’s hard to make a decision that feels like it will impact the rest of my life. I’m scared that this pandemic will get much worse, that there will be a terrible recession, that college won’t be able to start normally in the fall. I think it’s important to acknowledge my personal anxieties while also being cognizant of others’ struggles, and the fact that I could have it a lot worse. As the members of the class of 2020 make their college decisions, I encourage everyone to be realistic about the present while staying optimistic for the future.


When I submitted my college applications at the end of December I had visited almost all of the schools except for a handful. When I asked my parents about this they assured me we would get to them, perhaps over March break. Or, even better, why not wait, see where I get into, and then attend accepted students’ days. Every college on my list was in New England, so we could easily drive there if we needed to. For the months leading up to the release of college decisions I assured myself I would be able to go back and visit before making my final decision. As someone who hates making decisions, and found it hard to choose a favorite from my list, I was relying on revisit days to find out what college would “feel right.” 

Then, decisions were released with the notice that all accepted students days were cancelled, which I had been expecting. Now what would I do? When accepted into a college I liked, but had never visited, I wondered if I would actually be able to choose over ones I had already visited, but didn’t like as much. My parents reminded me we could always go and drive through them, if that’s what I really needed. I was luckyif I wanted to visit we could drive there, and I was already familiar with what life in New England was like. Truly, everything else I could want to know could be found on the college’s website. What about students who had applied to schools across the country, to schools that they had no idea of what life would be like? 

When accepted into a college I liked, but had never visited, I wondered if I would actually be able to choose over ones I had already visited, but didn’t like as much.

Many schools are now hosting virtual revisit days to still give accepted students a view of their school. Still, I was doubtful a video call would give me any more insight. For instance, even though I knew I wanted to go to Govs, I still attended revisit day to assure it was the high school I wanted to attend. Revisiting Govs and walking around campus truly made me feel I had made the right decision. Last week when only a handful of decisions were left to be sent out I continued to wonder if I was going to make a decision. Should I attend a virtual preview? Which waitlists should I stay on, if any? Can I judge a college by photos of them? 

Ultimately my college decision chose itself. I was accepted at Williams College, which I had not been expecting. After a brief conversation with my parents, we all agreed it was the one, and hurried to order sweatshirts and car decals that evening. I didn’t need to visit campus again to get the feeling I had been searching for all along: I didn’t want to visit any other school again, I didn’t want to attend any virtual previews, I wanted to go to Williams. Every adult I had talked to about the college process had always told me everything would work out, and that when I had found the right place I’d know. After being rejected from my ED school, I really started to doubt it. Somehow, at the end of all of it, revisit days seemed less important than I had made them out to be. Everything did work out in the end, and I urge other seniors to remember this as they make their own decisions about their future.

How are you feeling about college decisions?

  • I know where I'm going! (53%, 8 Votes)
  • Unbelievably stressed and overwhelmed (27%, 4 Votes)
  • I'm... OK, I guess (20%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 15

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