Eli Stone, 18, deferred his enrollment at Brandeis University at least until spring semester. Stone, of Lake View, will be working on a political campaign this fall. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
As more universities announce minimal or no in-person courses, some students are skipping dorm living this fall or deferring their education altogether.
Eli Stone, of Lake View, was ready for the “normal college experience” and set to start his freshman year this fall at Brandeis University outside Boston.
But when Brandeis released its reopening plans, Stone, 18, said he couldn’t imagine finding new friends or developing new relationships when he was living in a single dorm and taking all his classes online. So earlier this summer, he deferred his enrollment for at least a semester.
“If I was going this year, I’d really only have three years of a college experience because I don’t think spring will be normal,” either, Stone said. “Starting college during a pandemic would have been really hard for me.”
Faced with almost completely online schedules and strict COVID-19 protocol, students across Chicago who realize they won’t enjoy the traditional college campus experience are choosing to live at home or defer their education altogether. Some students’ plans have literally been upended in the past several days as many universities announced fewer and fewer — if any — in-person classes and strict rules for living in the dorms or even being on campus.
Up until last week, Ariel Hulfachor was planning on making a cross-country road trip to Santa Clarita to start her freshman year at the California Institute of the Arts. Hulfachor, 17, of Oriole Park, had already wrapped her head around potentially living in a hotel room for the fall, since the school’s dorms couldn’t accommodate social distancing guidelines.
When the school announced last week that classes would be completely online in the fall, the Whitney Young Magnet High School grad said she was “devastated.”
“I was pretty convinced I was going because of the nature of my education,” said Hulfachor, who’s planning on studying fine arts. “I didn’t think it would be possible for me to do it without their facilities or in-person instruction.”
The fine arts curriculum typically involves using the school’s materials and machinery to complete projects, Hulfachor said. Instead, she will take her fall courses online while in Chicago and is disappointed knowing many of her classes will be lecture-style instead, she said.
Hulfachor said she’s hoping the school could have in-person classes in the spring, though she’s not getting her hopes up. Even if the college introduces a hybrid model for spring semester, with limited in-person classes, going to campus still might not be an option for her, Hulfachor said.
“I may just stay here because of the cost of living up there,” Hulfachor said. “I don’t know if it would be worth it.”
Future plans in flux
At 27 years old, Danielle Di Silvestro isn’t a traditional incoming college freshman. Having already received a psychology degree from Roosevelt University, Di Silvestro is going back to school for music production this fall at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida.
“In my head, I want to move down there yesterday because I just want to be among the students,” said Di Silvestro, of Arcadia Terrace on the North Side. “But what’s going on now in Florida is scary.”
Di Silvestro had already told friends she was moving to the Orlando area for school. But now, she’ll be completing fall semester online from Chicago.
Even those plans are subject to change, Di Silvestro said.
“Right now, my plan is to start online in September and then be six months online — that’s the plan as of today,” Di Silvestro said. “A big part of me is like, ‘Why don’t I just defer until things settle down a bit?’”
Going to work
Instead of going to school this fall, Stone, who deferred his admission to Brandeis, will be working as a campaign manager for Sarah Yacoub, who’s running for the Wisconsin State Assembly. Stone worked on eight other political campaigns in high school and hopes to work in Chicago politics after he graduates.
Stone already said goodbye to some of his high school friends as they leave for college, he said, making it “kind of hard” not starting school at the same time as his peers.
Whether he goes to Brandeis in the spring or waits a full year before starting college is a decision Stone is waiting to make until after November’s election, he said.
“If they say it’ll be completely normal in the spring, which is unlikely, I’ll probably go [to Brandeis],” Stone said. “But socially and academically, it might be easier to start next year.”