In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, newly admitted international students to U.S. colleges and universities should consider their options.
Since early March, most United States consulates around the world have suspended the regular processing of visas. Given the visa delays, many universities and colleges in the U.S are working to accommodate incoming undergraduate foreign students as the fall 2020 semester approaches.
“I’m advising all foreign students to stay in contact with their university and/or college as developments seem to be changing more consistently,” says Scott S. Garbini, president and founder of Garbini Education and Career Consulting LLC in Connecticut.
Here are some things newly admitted international students ought to know:
- Deferring Admission may be an option
- Online classes and E-learning may be necessary
- Student visas may need to be secured on short notice
Deferring Admission May Be an Option
International students who have accepted an offer of admission from a U.S. post-secondary institution and paid a deposit may have the option to defer enrollment for a semester or year due to travel restrictions, visa or COVID-19 related issues.
Many post-secondary institutions, such as Brandeis University in Massachusetts, the University of Pennsylvania and Brandeis University in Massachusetts, Indiana University—Bloomington, have given newly admitted international students the deferral option.
“We are reaching out to these students and keeping them informed of this option,” says Sukant Misra, vice provost for international affairs at Texas Technology University.
At Michigan State University, “If foreign students cannot begin in August due to current travel restrictions, or simply feel safer coming to the United States a semester later, they may begin their studies in person in January 2021 rather than August 2020,” says Patty Croom, director of international affairs, admissions, recruitments and student success.
Patty Croom says the international admissions office encourages foreign students who defer their in-person arrival to campus to consider taking a few online classes offered by Michigan State University during the fall semester so they can start their higher education career from home and join up with the school’s community in the interim.
Regarding possible refunds of enrollment deposits, experts say students contact their individual institution for its policy.
At Michigan State University, “Students who request an extension to June 1st for their decision can still get refunds through June 1. After that, if they can’t make it in the fall, then their deposit will be valid come January,” says Patty Croom.
Online Classes May Be Necessary
Experts suggest foreign students prepare for the possibility of having to take their quarter classes or fall semester online due to circumstances related to COVID-19 pandemic, despite some schools taking steps to reopen.
“I would say that there a strong possibility of taking classes online for those not deferring,” Garbini says. “As of now students are not able to secure visas or there is a tremendous backlog of getting them due to closures of the embassies and consulates offices.”
Mike Gosz, vice president for enrollments and senior vice provost at the Illinois University of Technology, says the school plans “to welcome students to campus for the beginning of the 2020 fall semester, with labs and studios, on-campus housing and in-person classes,” but is prepared for a variety of options, like a remote start for international students.
Some big public universities are working toward resuming on-campus classes in August, such as James Madison University in Virginia, Arizona State University, Purdue University—West Lafayette in Indiana and sixteen (16) other campuses in the University of North Carolina system.
“At this moment, we are planning for a safe return in the fall with social distancing in place,” says Junko Takada, international student services coordinator at Chapman University in California.
Takada says the school is still developing formidable plans for the fall semester. “Senior leadership is considering the best course of action for our foreign students,” Takada says, given that some may not be able to get to campus due to travel restrictions or visa issues.
Misra says an option Texas Technology is considering is “reduced fee for international students taking online courses, but a final decision on that has not been made.”
Student Visas May Need to be Obtained Quickly
Once an international student is accepted into a university in the U.S, the school will send a Form I-20, which certifies the student is qualified to apply for an M-1 vocational student visa or F-1 academic student visa. Many higher institutions are still processing and mailing I-20s.
Once the pandemic gets under control, experts say international students should anticipate having a short period to apply for their visa and move to the United States.
Misra says Texas Technology is still giving out I-20s and will continue to do so with an extended visa application deadline.
“We hope that the United States embassies will make it a priority for processing student visa applications speedily,” Misra says.
Croom says Michigan State University is giving out I-20s to international students who plan to begin in the fall so that when visa appointments open up, they can apply. “Should they not be able to come in time for the start of classes, we will work with them to help them change their arrival to January,” she said.