Drive-thru college admissions isn't healthy. College should be a transformational process, not a fast food order.

  • Earning a college degree is meant to be a transformative experience, not a consumer transaction.
  • Flawed rankings and narrowly focused courses of study contribute to this notion of college as a retail good.
  • The disruption of traditional college admissions due to the pandemic presents a special opportunity for fresh thinking about the benefits of higher education.
  • S. Georgia Nugent is the president of Illinois Wesleyan University.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended many aspects of higher education this year, including admissions. With college fairs, campus visits, and personal counselling cancelled by COVID, it’s no surprise that curbside college has arrived. On some campuses, prospective students can now drive up, hand over their college application, and receive a decision (and possibly thousands of dollars in financial aid) in the time it takes to get a burger and fries. 

The drive-thru college acceptance idea may seem like an antidote to the equally extreme admissions madness of recent years that has placed absurdly high pressure on students to get into ‘THE right school’. Instead of an all-consuming decision that requires lots of resources and months of research and preparation, drive-thru admissions completely minimizes the decision-making process.

But neither of these extreme approaches to college admission is healthy. There is not just one perfect school for a student, yet making a thoughtful college decision matters. And it requires more than a curbside pick-up. At least three factors contribute to a tendency to view college education as a consumer good, but in each case the reasoning is flawed. College shouldn’t be seen as a consumer good, but as a transformative process.

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