Class of 2024 grapples with college decisions during the pandemic

admitted students line up outside CMC's kravis center with their reflections in the pool at bottom
Admitted students take a tour of Claremont McKenna College in April 2019. (Amy Best • The Student Life)

High school seniors considering attending the Claremont Colleges won’t be able to come to campus for admitted students’ weekend this spring. As COVID-19 spread in early March, the schools’ admissions programs were one of the first things to be canceled.

But to make up for three days of lost programming, Harvey Mudd College’s admissions office is offering 42 instead.

In addition to a three-hour Virtual Admitted Students Program held April 4, Harvey Mudd’s “42 Days of ASP” have included a virtual club fair, conversations with students and faculty, “mathemagics” with professor Arthur Benjamin and even painting with President Maria Klawe.

The cancellation of in-person admitted students programs and the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming school year has created unprecedented circumstances for prospective members of the 5Cs’ classes of 2024. Though all the admissions offices, like Mudd’s, have attempted to supplement their programming to help “prospies” and “pre-frosh” choose where to commit, students are struggling to navigate these unusual times.

Salma El Difrawy, a prospective student from San José, Calif. who’s deciding between Claremont McKenna College and Pitzer College, lamented that she’ll be unable to visit the schools and “get a feel for the campus[es].” 

“It makes me nervous that I’m going to choose the wrong school and not fit in when I get there,” she said. 

But El Difrawy is grateful for the online resources the 5Cs have provided. 

“Colleges, especially the consortium schools, have been trying their hardest,” she said.

Ravenna Lee, a prospective Scripps College student from Orange County, said the cancellation of in-person admitted students days actually sped up her decision-making process, but acknowledged her unique circumstances.

Lee has two older sisters — one is a current student at Pomona College, and one is a Scripps alumna. She’s visited Scripps many times in the past. 

“I knew I would 100 percent like the Claremont Colleges, whereas anywhere else it was hard to say that without visiting,” she said. 

With the expansion of online programming, students who wouldn’t have been able to travel to California in the first place are grateful for the increased resources.

Max Abe Plush, a prospective Pitzer student from New York, wouldn’t have been able to come to Claremont for an in-person admitted students day. But, once everything moved digital, he was able to register for the event online. 

“It’s kind of like a blessing in disguise,” he said. 

Jacco Hoogvliets, a prospective Pitzer student from the Netherlands, also found the unforeseen circumstances to have fringe benefits.

While attending boarding school in China, it was difficult for Hoogvliets to communicate with his parents about financial aid. Due to this struggle, he ultimately decided to “let Pitzer go.” But upon returning home due to the virus, living with his family made it easier to discuss financial matters. 

“If I hadn’t been sent back home, I wouldn’t have been able to communicate my financial information and eventually commit to Pitzer,” he said. 

Like Mudd, the other 5Cs are also launching online programming for admitted students.

Pitzer hosted a virtual admitted students day on April 18 which included a student panel, a faculty panel, and a “Zoom-ba” class. CMC is holding virtual tours of the 5Cs, panel discussions and smaller regional meetings led by their regional admissions officers. Pomona is offering virtual tours and one-on-one conversations with tour guides and admissions office interns.

Prospective students have also reached out to each other. This year, Discord has been an especially popular way for admitted Mudd students to communicate. Channels on the HMC 2024 Discord server include anime, fashion, politics, origami and “cruggz-war” — a forum for an extremely divisive debate between Crocs and Uggs.

“It’s been really fun getting to know all the people on it. As a substitute for going to Mudd for ASP and seeing all the students, it’s the next best thing as far as I can tell,” said Ben Hartley, who created the server after committing to HMC.

Prospective 5Cers are also worried about whether classes will actually start in person this fall as planned.

“There’s a lot of serious doubt being expressed, whether that’s on Discord or in personal chats, about whether we will even go to campus in the fall,” Sasha Rothstein, a prospective Mudder from Seattle said.

Plush was worried about the prospect of online classes. 

“Setting off your very first impression online is something that could be really detrimental to the next few years of the freshman class,” he said.

El Difrawy said she would consider enrolling in a community college and transferring to Claremont next year if classes were moved online. Other students have considered taking gap years. 

“I think, all of the sudden, starting college online makes other options a lot more valid,” Lee said.  

Eli Roggen, a prospective Pomona student from Arlington, Virginia, was planning on taking a gap year before the coronavirus outbreak. But his original plan to “travel and work in exchange for room and board” in South America is in jeopardy. 

Roggen is currently trying to find an alternative plan in the U.S., but worries he might not meet his goals of becoming fluent in Spanish and volunteering in underserved communities.

Rothstein is not considering delaying the start of her first year because she doesn’t want to postpone starting graduate school after college.

“I would definitely vastly prefer for online classes to occur in the fall rather than pushing back a semester or going for a gap year,” Rothstein said. “Since I know that I’m going to do a couple of years beyond undergrad, I’d really like to limit the amount of time it takes for me to get there.”

The pandemic is also causing other logistical issues for high schoolers. 

Plush is concerned about the cancellation of International Baccalaureate exams.

“I’ve been working for the past two years for this diploma to hopefully get credit in college,” he said. 

El Difrawy has struggled to keep in contact with the CMC financial aid office. With its employees working remotely, she said, the response time is often a week or two.

“With the May deadline coming up, it makes me pretty nervous because I don’t know how much money I’m going to get or when they’re going to respond,” she said. 

The coronavirus pandemic has given Kara Mickas, a prospective Pomona student, another reason to appreciate choosing the 5Cs. If another wave of the virus causes students to be sent home from campus again in the fall, the Bay Area native knows the trip home won’t take long.

“If you have to move all of your stuff out suddenly, it’s nice to be in driving distance at least,” she said.

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