Applying to college during a pandemic
In normal times, the college application process is one of the most stressful things a high school student will go through up to that point in their lives. Now throw in a pandemic and add the college application process to the list of things that have been turned upside down in 2020. The age old formulas that schools used to evaluate applicants are not possible currently. Even if these vaccines are successful and we return to normalish, fingers crossed, in the spring / summer of 2021, the next few college application cycles will look notably different than years past. So what’s changed?
“Visit, visit, visit”, is what high school juniors were told to do in the past. On campus visits have been replaced with virtual tours and Zoom information sessions. Often times the admission representatives leading these virtual sessions are the same ones who will be reading applications for students in that geographic region. Students should treat every interaction like an interview!
The cancelling of test dates for the SAT and ACT have forced almost all colleges to become test optional for the foreseeable future. This was a trend before the pandemic, but now large state schools such as UMASS Amherst, that relied on this metric for years, have no choice. More emphasis is now placed on other variables like grades and the college essay.
Speaking of grades, due to remote learning in the spring many high schools changed from a traditional grading system to pass/fail or credit/ no credit grading systems. Where junior year grades were once of the highest importance now more emphasis is placed on how a student’s class choices might be. As grading in schools normalize it’s especially important for this year’s seniors to perform well first semester, but for juniors this will be the first set of grades since freshman year for many.
Truth be told, an overhaul is long overdue for the college application process. Standardized testing has proven to be inequitable, visiting schools that are a plane ride away is not possible for many high school students, and grades at competitive high schools have long been inflated. The game has changed and, at least for the time being, schools, students, and families will need to adjust.
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