Last year I was one of the members of UCR’s admissions team. Together we’ve read hundreds of applications and interviewed nearly as many prospective students. With the COVID-19 outbreak, it has of course been an unusual year. On behalf of the Admissions team, I want to look back on the past semester.
One of the first COVID-related measures that UCR took was that we no longer would be inviting prospective students to come to UCR for an in-person interview. Of course this was regrettable: not only do I prefer seeing a student ‘for real’, it also lets students see UCR and its people one extra time which helps them decide whether this a place they can feel at home. On the other hand, UCR has always attracted many international students for whom it is not possible to visit. So we were quite used to interviewing students via video conference.
Basically, things went quite well. We spoke to students from about 40 countries covering all continents except Antartica. The Zoom connections were strong, providing clear audio and video. It was a privilege to be invited in houses all over the world. I got to see expressions of local culture (but also noted that student-rooms all over the world are quite similar), and sometimes waved to a hovering parent in the background.
It was notable that also students who had never even been to Europe were quite well prepared. They had carefully studied websites, had first-hand information from study advisers, friends or UCR students, or had used the Unibuddy platform to chat with current UCR students. So the interviews were quite focused and specific.
The basic theme of the conversations was of course whether both I and the students felt they would be happy and successful at UCR. Would they enjoy the type of broad program that UCR offers? Did they really love learning and didn’t mind working hard? Would they thrive in a small but very active student community? And so on.
But the wonderful thing for me about these interviews is that they all are so different. Students all have their own interests, ambitions and background. Of course we also spoke COVID-19 and how it affected students and their families. There were big differences. Some students had been relatively unaffected because in their part of the world COVID-19 was either under control or hadn’t arrived yet. But students in other parts of the world hadn’t been outside of their house for months. They knew there were sick people in their town, sometimes people they knew well. It was obviously a scary situation.
It also was a time of great uncertainty for many. Governments imposed all kinds of emergency rules for which nobody was prepared. For some school systems like IB and Dutch high schools, the final central exams were completely cancelled. So for many around the world, finishing high school was quite stressful. And it didn’t end there. There were lots of questions: How can we celebrate our high school graduation? What sort of summer vacation can we have? Can we find a summer job? When can we travel where? Should we start university in August, or do possible travel restrictions make it wiser to start in January?
While the anxiety was obviously there, I also found a lot of resilience. Many students decided to make the most of the free time that was forced upon them. They were reading lots of books, started doing extra classes on line, or volunteered where possible. In my conversations, I frequently found great passion about responding to the challenges the world faces today. Whether it is about issues like climate change, sustainability, biodiversity or social justice, the new generation is ready take up the challenge.
I found it very inspirational to talk to all these young people, and I am looking forward to see many of them at UCR. They will no doubt enrich our campus. Even more importantly, I know they that in good time, they will go out and make the world a better place.