The University of Oregon is pushing its acceptance deadline back from May 1 to September 1 to help ease prospective student stress during the coronavirus pandemic. Terry Richard, The Oregonian/OregonLive

The University of Oregon is pushing its acceptance deadline back from May 1 to Sept. 1 to help ease prospective student stress during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The University of Oregon has a reassuring message for the thousands of high school seniors worrying over college decisions amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus crisis: Take your time.

Oregon is extending its acceptance deadline from May 1 to Sept. 1, providing prospective students four extra months to plan for college, Roger Thompson, the school’s vice president for student services and enrollment management, told The Oregonian. Many colleges and universities have postponed the traditional May 1 acceptance deadline to June 1, but UO is the first in the nation to delay it through the summer.

“We’ve heard from so many students and families that are just under so much pressure from everything the coronavirus has brought,” Thompson said. “And they just want more time. We could pick some artificial date four weeks from now, but it just feels like we won’t have a feel for where things really stand then. So we’re giving parents and families more time.”

Under normal circumstances, the majority of high school seniors — and others seeking college educations — would be finalizing decisions this week. But the coronavirus crisis ended the traditional school year weeks ago, tossing seniors’ lives upside down.

All the while, as a byproduct of statewide stay-at-home orders, families have endured unprecedented financial hardships, and college campuses have closed and pivoted to virtual instruction.

UO President Michael Schill announced Monday the school was “planning to be open for in-person, on-campus instruction this fall,” but it’s unclear what that will look like during COVID-19. And other universities have not offered similar hope, creating concern and uncertainty about the extent of college education this fall.

Doing the right thing will cause a bit more chaos for UO this summer, as it will have less than a month to finalize final enrollment numbers and plan accordingly — fall classes are scheduled to open the last week of September. But it’s already been a chaotic spring.

March and April are traditionally the biggest recruiting months of the year for UO. Thompson and his team normally spend the months traversing Oregon and beyond to lure students, visiting 46 cities to tout the school’s academic reputation and flaunt the Ducks’ brand. At the same time, the school hosts “Ducks Days” every Friday, inviting roughly 1,000 admitted students each week to visit campus and soak in the Eugene experience.

But this year Thompson and his team were in Northern California recruiting prospective students when COVID-19 closed the state and sent them scrambling back to Oregon. Soon thereafter, UO’s campus closed and he and his staff were forced to rewrite their entire spring recruiting playbook on the fly. As a result, they launched “virtual visits” for prospective students, hosting two 90-minute live events in April that featured a campus tour and question-and-answer sessions with student and staff panels.

More than 1,800 prospective students attended the virtual visits, asking more than 350 questions. The sessions remain accessible on the Ducks’ YouTube channel, where they have drawn nearly 2,500 additional views.

UO’s freshman classes have swelled during the last decade, increasing roughly 25% to an average of 4,200 students. Last year’s freshman class, which featured more than 4,500 enrollees, was a record. And while colleges across the country are bracing for a potential enrollment dip of 15% to 25% this fall because of COVID-19, UO is actually “tracking right at the same rate we always were,” Thompson said, and planning for a class of between 4,200-4,400 students.

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