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Opinion | How to Go to College During a Pandemic

That they use kitchens in their residential buildings to cook for themselves rather than plopping down in a student cafeteria isn’t a hardship, he added. It’s, well, an education.

Nelson, of course, has an investment in believing that. But he’s hardly the first person to suggest that the country’s richer schools are more concerned with pleasing students than with challenging them and are better at delaying adulthood than at ushering their charges into it.

And Minerva students and graduates I spoke to said that the school indeed gave them something — maturity, initiative, ingenuity and, ultimately, confidence — in return for what they sacrificed. Alexander Sanchez, who left Washington University in St. Louis after one year to do Minerva from start to finish, told me that he “lost access to a dance studio and to the critical mass of students I would need to form a dance club.”

But Sanchez, 23, who graduated this year and works in the psychology department at Harvard, told me that he learned the tango in Buenos Aires, studied hip-hop in Berlin and developed “friendships that challenged my conceptions of what ‘normal’ was every single day.”

“We were exposed to such a diversity of opinions and cultural upbringings,” he said, referring to himself and his Minerva classmates, most of whom aren’t from America. He’s Colombian-American and went to high school in Puerto Rico.

Minerva is an antidote to provincialism. Megan Perpich, 21, who will head to Berlin this fall to begin her junior year, told me that the school made her feel “small.” That’s a compliment. She feels small, she explained, because the world feels so very inexhaustibly big.

And Minerva has carefully considered and tried to address the pitfalls of online education. One reason that someone taking a large lecture course alone on a computer at home may not finish or glean much from it is the absence of a nearby support network of peers. But Minerva students have one another for counsel, company and community, and several told me that a classmate taking the same seminar that you are might be doing so on a laptop set up next to yours. There might be three or four of you huddled together, although not this coming semester, when Minerva will exhort students to observe social distancing in their residences.

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