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Who Was on Campus This Fall? Underclassmen, Mostly

Article by Chace Pulley ’21 and graphics by David Edelman ’22.

Despite rumors that the college would be under-enrolled this year, just over 1,300 students matriculated at Haverford for the fall 2020 semester—only 70 fewer students than were enrolled for the fall 2019 semester.

But the population who chose to live at Haverford skewed young. According to data provided to The Clerk in September, 59% of the roughly 980 students on campus were members of the classes of 2023 and 2024.

Some students who chose to take a leave of absence feared a repeat of last spring, where the college sent everyone home in the midst of the pandemic, and worried the consequences of a completely online education would be too high.

“I thought the college would send everyone home, as they did in March, as soon as there was a non-trivial number of COVID cases on campus,” said Chris Conrad ’22, explaining his decision to take a leave. Conrad did not want to take his senior thesis online after a less than ideal experience with online classes last spring.

In the end, despite the expectations of many, that fateful day never came: Haverford only had seven students test positive for COVID-19 during the semester. And after a rocky start where partying brought a brief move to Level 2 of the college’s COVID mitigation plan, the campus remained at Level 1 the rest of the semester.

The skepticism that the college would not finish the semester—alongside the dread of potentially taking Zoom classes in a stifling hot dorm room—also led many older students to live off campus. Nearly 100 juniors and seniors in total, or 16% of all students in those class years who enrolled for the fall semester, lived off campus but commuted to Haverford for classes. This is in sharp juxtaposition to a typical year, where less than 2% of Haverford students elect to live off campus.

Surprisingly, relatively few sophomores chose to commute (first-years can only live off campus with their Dean’s permission). This could potentially be because sophomores are younger and parents do not want them living on their own, or because they were reluctant to give up time on campus after having their first year cut short by the pandemic.

Other students chose to live far away from campus, studying at home or even living with friends across the country. All in all, almost a third of juniors and seniors enrolled for the fall semester lived away from campus.

Yet on the whole, only about 16% of Fords chose to study completely remotely. Among first-years, enrolling virtually was especially unpopular. And for those who did, it proved to be a challenging first semester.

“I felt very lonely attending synchronous zoom courses from China because everyone’s asleep when I’m awake,” said Sherry Sun ’24. “And I have to keep quiet, especially in the early morning. One of my Chinese friends [also a first-year] told me how her dad rushed to the kitchen believing there’s a thief when she’s grabbing some food but accidentally broke a bowl!”

In contrast to some peer schools, an analysis of data provided to The Clerk found no significant racial disparities between the students who lived on campus and those who are commuting or studying remotely. The Office of the Registrar did not respond to requests for data on whether international students or students receiving financial aid were more or less likely to live on campus.

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