COVID-19 and the Next Generation of Villanovans

The Admissions Office and Blue Key Society began offering on-campus tours on Wednesday, Sept. 16, reemphasizing the many changes and challenges that COVID-19 has brought to almost every aspect of our daily lives as Villanovans, as well as our visions for the future. While we are all suffering and muddling through our own COVID-19 transitions, recent Blue Key activities have underscored the impact on high school students in the midst of one of the biggest transitions of their lives – moving from high school to college.

2020 has indeed been a crazy time for all of us, including our new freshmen classmates who not only had to finish their senior years online, but also had to start their college careers during the pandemic. Seniors in high school this year, however, are faced with the challenge of navigating the always stressful college decision process. As stressful as this process was for the Class of 2024, at least the college visits and dreaded application season were finished before the stay-at-home orders of this past March changed our world. 

Remember the difficulties of choosing a college? Imagine going through the process this fall now that campus tours, information sessions and face-to-face interactions with students and the wider college community have been so dramatically altered. Further, as we all work our way through this academic year, we can only guess how COVID-19 will impact next year. Will COVID-19 cases spike? Will social-distancing and online classes be the new normal? Will a vaccine miraculously solve all our problems? 

For some high school seniors, this uncertainty may prompt them to wonder, “Is it really worth committing to a campus experience at all?” However, despite the frustrating fact that reality is now overshadowed by the unknown, colleges (especially the University) are trying their best to ensure high school seniors have all the information and experience necessary to make an informed decision about what they want their futures to look like.

The Admissions Office and Blue Key have made a range of alterations to tours to ensure the health and safety of the tour guides, prospective students, and the larger University community. One such change is that tours are now capped at one to two families per group to maintain social distancing, as well as to ensure prospective students can hear the tour guide through masks. Additionally, all visitors must wear a mask at all times, and entering buildings is strictly off-limits. Moreover, Villanova’s on-campus tours are more difficult to schedule online.

While obviously not ideal, I would argue that these new tour formats actually have some silver linings. For instance, capping tours at one to two families helps to create a more conversational and informal atmosphere with prospective students and their families. Tours can now be more tailored to the prospective student, and the pressure of asking questions in front of so many strangers is reduced. Additionally, the greater difficulty of scheduling tours could potentially encourage high schoolers to think more deliberately about whether they actually want to spend their time touring the University, or if they are just doing it to check a metaphorical box. 

Perhaps the more personal tour format should not be exclusive to the current COVID-19 era. We should begin thinking about the lessons learned from this time in our life and how to incorporate some of them permanently in the post COVID-19 world. And remember, if you do see a tour on campus, be doubly sure to say “hello” and provide a warm welcome to our visitors. A mask is not a muzzle. You never know, a friendly word or wave could result in a new classmate next year.