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The pandemic is creating a new kind of community among deferred students

Ilana Strauss Dec 1, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
A quiet MIT campus in July. The coronavirus pandemic is giving many students a reason to defer their school admissions. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The pandemic is creating a new kind of community among deferred students

Ilana Strauss Dec 1, 2020
A quiet MIT campus in July. The coronavirus pandemic is giving many students a reason to defer their school admissions. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Over the summer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s urban planning program held a meeting for incoming graduate students. Some were still deciding whether or not to defer part of the school year due to the pandemic. Ezra Glenn, an MIT lecturer, immediately noticed there was something different about these students.

“We sort of expected it would be similar to an admissions open house,” Glenn said. “It’d be a bunch of students awkwardly not knowing each other, and maybe tripping over themselves being polite, getting out of each other’s way.”

Instead, the students had already gotten to know each other virtually. They’d been working together to prepare for the meeting.

“It turned out, they showed up very well organized,” Glenn said. “It almost felt like we were having a public meeting at City Hall, and here was a citizens group that had clearly organized ahead of time.”

Glenn said 40 of the 60 students decided to defer. But that doesn’t mean those students lost touch with each other. They’ve continued to meet regularly.

Many university students have chosen to defer going to school this year in the hope of having a full college experience once schools reopen with in-person classes. But some students are finding ways to connect while they wait.

The MIT urban planning graduate students who decided to defer created an urban planning book club that meets once a month on Zoom. About 10 people showed up during a recent meeting, where Jimena Muzio and McKenzie Humann discussed evictions during the pandemic.

McKenzie Humann, who will be studying urban planning at MIT in the fall, started a book club with her deferred cohort.
McKenzie Humann, who will study urban planning at MIT next year, started a book club with her cohort of deferring students. (Photo by Jacob Hayes)

“Does the current situation justify occupying someone else’s property?” Muzio asked. “Even though it’s vacant? I’m just wondering myself.”

“No, I find myself in a similar moral gray area,” Humann replied.

The students also organized a film club, monthly lecture series and study groups so they can try to test out some of the classes they’ll eventually take. They shared online courses and passed around job postings. 

Mikaela Strech is a deferred student living in Boston. Instead of going to graduate school, she’s spending the year working at a consulting firm. But she appreciates seeing her future classmates on a regular basis.

“Getting to know each other at all, and just knowing that we have something to look forward to, has been really nice,” Strech said.

Deferred students are staying connected throughout the country. Cor Barnhill has been accepted at Pitzer College in California but has deferred freshman year. Barnhill, who is working two jobs instead of attending school, is in a Snapchat with other deferred students.

“I think the group has been helpful in reminding me that even though we’re far apart, and I’ve never met these people, I do have a sort of community right now,” Barnhill said. “It’s nice to have some people, however far apart we are, that know what all of this feels like.”

MIT lecturer Ezra Glenn said the deferred urban planning graduate students might actually be more prepared than past MIT cohorts he’s taught. 

“We realized, ‘Wow, we really chose the right students. This is the right group. These are the ones we want,’ ” Glenn said.

The deferred MIT students are planning to attend the graduate program in the fall of 2021. The school doesn’t yet know if it will hold in-person classes by then.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What are the details of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan?

The $1.9 trillion plan would aim to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. It would also include $1,400 checks for most Americans. Get the rest of the specifics here.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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