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Studying in The USA in the times of the COVID-19

Studying in The USA in the times of the COVID-19

The pandemic Covid–19 or Corona virus as is more commonly known has affected all walks of life in an unheard and unseen sort of way.  Nations across the globe are shutting their borders and travel has come to a standstill.  At no point of time in known history after the Second World War has such havoc been wrought on such a large section of people.

Our country too has been affected and our governments both at the Centre and State are doing their best to stop the spread of this dreaded virus and contain it.  The Government of India has declared a lockdown till the 15th April.  We are living in gloomy times and the only bright spot is that this is a story that can be told by the youth of today to their progeny for times to come.  Like all other sectors, Education too has taken a back seat because of the lockdown and many a plan has gone haywire. While a few private universities have stated they will promote students based on a continuous performance assessment for the lower classes, the Govt has yet to put its stamp on such a proposition for the students of the final year. This shall mean a delayed result of the final year exams.

The purpose of this article is to examine what lies ahead for students who had planned to study abroad either for undergraduate or graduate programs.  Each country is adopting its own strategy to deal with the situation which is fluid and unfolding even as we write.  We would like to begin this series with the situation in the USA and what is the likely strategy of the colleges and universities going to be based on the inputs received from representatives of several reputed universities in the USA.

The United States of America

The US Embassy and Consulate are closed for Visa processing and no dates for visas are available till further notice. In fact, the earliest available date for a visa to the US is February 2021. But this author is sanguine enough to believe that the earliest available date may come down to a more realistic July or August. If the situation resolves within the next 12 to 16 weeks, things will be simpler to understand. It is also the strong belief of this writer, that should that happen, the US Embassy shall give priority to students applying for the visas and will try to clear as many visas as possible by Aug end or thereabouts.

If the situation does not ease within this period, what can possibly happen is :

  1. US Universities shall start their programs for Fall 2020 as scheduled, in August/ September 2020. A few are talking of pushing back the date of start of the program by a month or so to accommodate International students.
  2. If a student is unable to get the US visa on time (Which is looking more likely as time progresses) the student’s admission is likely to be deferred to Spring/ Fall 2021.
  3. Please note that admission shall be deferred only if the student does not take up another academic course (In other words, a student will need to either work on some internship/ project or work. But not join a college/ university for a degree/ diploma).
  4. Almost all US Universities are offering courses online for the current cohort of students (Already in the US) and this is a temporary relief granted in view of the situation.
  5. There is a general hope amongst the admissions officers of US universities that the Government in the US will allow this facility to International students too for Fall 2021. In such a case, students may be allowed to complete courses even as they are in their home countries and thus earn credits for the courses they may complete.
  6. Universities like Georgia Institute of Technology have started the option of offering courses online, so long as the program is available online. This is especially good news since it shall permit students to complete a few credits online and benefit from transferring the credits to the university, when they land for a later semester.

While this author believes that all US universities shall be eager to adopt this model, it now depends on the US Government to permit foreign students (F-1 visa students) to take advantage of this system.

A few other universities have started offering the following plans:

Option 1, Enrolment
2 Courses Fall Distance Education
2 Courses Spring Distance Education  
3 Courses Fall On-Campus 
3 Courses Spring On-Campus

Option 2, Enrolment 
2 Courses Fall Distance Education
2 Courses Spring On-Campus 
3 Courses Fall On-Campus 
3 Courses Spring On-Campus 

International students must be in the U.S. for at least one academic year before they are eligible for Optional Practical Training. 

For students looking at applying to universities in the Spring/Fall of 2021, GRE and TOEFL can now be attempted sitting in the warmth of your homes. Starting from the 2nd of April 2020, students can take the GRE test via online testing from home.

Ensuring that the prep tests like the GRE/ SAT/ GMAT along with the English language tests viz., TOEFL/ IELTS/ PTE are taken by the end of September will enable the students to meet all possible deadlines for Fall of 2021.

Students are strongly advised to use this lockdown period productively by reading online versions of newspapers, improving their vocabulary, keeping themselves abreast of the developments around the world. The biggest damage this virus is going to inflict on the world other than the loss of human lives is on the economy of almost every country in the world. The challenge for the leaders of various countries around the globe would be to revive their economies and bring them back to the desired levels in the shortest possible time. This would require a tremendous amount of planning, expenditure and of course human resources too. We might see a lot in investment in healthcare infrastructure, R&D and allied activities. Thus creating a lot of opportunities too to highly skilled workers.  Students should keep these opportunities in mind when they take a decision about their future and wonder as to what the future has in store for them.

It is the strong belief of the author that the intentional student community has a lot to offer to the US economy. In fact, these students brought in over $ 45 Billion Dollars into the US economy. This is not some loose change and no country or economy can ignore this kind of money, especially keeping in mind the bleak economic situation ahead. All countries want International students, more so the USA. It should also be kept in mind that given the present situation, there will be a sizeable drop in the number of students from China coming to the USA. Students from the next biggest contributor to the International student numbers in the viz., India will be more aggressively solicited by universities in the USA.

Thus, the story of the brave students, voyagers seeking knowledge and a better life, shall continue, after the COVID-19 situation eases. There may be a slowdown for some time, but the student is now a rather informed, highly mobile personality and we do not believe that he shall lie down waiting for too long.

K.P. Singh

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