Op-Ed: Applying to College During COVID-19

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Photo illustration purchased from BigStock.com.

Karly Hamilton, Editor-in-Chief

Applying to college is already a stressful event—writing all of the essays, filling out the applications, and figuring out which school could potentially be the one—but this year, COVID-19 has drastically amplified the stress placed on high school seniors.

As someone who takes comfort in consistency, starting the college process amid the current pandemic has been quite the stressful experience. Luckily, the School’s college counselors have been there to help.

From compiling lists of colleges that offer virtual interviews to scheduling virtual visits with admissions representatives from various colleges, students have a plethora of ways to interact with colleges this fall.

Personally, I was fortunate enough to visit a handful of schools before the pandemic hit, giving me the opportunity to experience more of each school’s community. However, there are still many schools I was unable to visit, and I am just one of many seniors adjusting to this year’s application process.

With less than a month until many early applications are due, I am far from the only senior contemplating my choices. Does early decision make sense for me? Is this school really a good fit? How will this school benefit me long term? These just a few of the many questions running through my head right now, and that’s without the concern of SAT and ACT tests.

Many schools have changed their testing policies so students are not required to submit standardized testing to be considered for admission, but many scholarship opportunities rely on testing to gauge if students are eligible for merit aid—and if so, how much.

Since more schools are going test-optional this year, more emphasis will be put on transcripts, grades, and letters of recommendation. However, this reality has also emphasized a new topic of consideration—how has COVID-19 changed your perspective of the world?

As The Wall Street Journal explained, “Hundreds of colleges dropped their mandate for a standardized test score this year as a result of the pandemic, but the replacement criterion at many schools may be just as daunting for would-be college freshmen: a new understanding of themselves and their place in the world as a result of the pandemic.”

We all have had different experiences over the past few months, and I have found it hard to put into words the influence the pandemic has had on my perspective. After many months of reading, spending time with family, and observing the world around me, all I know for sure is that this year will have an impact on the rest of my life.

I see college as part of my journey to finding where I fit in the world, and it’s hard to make such a major life decision without being able to visit campuses. For me, the location of each college plays a large role in determining the right school for me, something that is quite difficult to experience from my bedroom.

A recent NPR article reported that CEO of the National Association for College Admissions Counseling Angel Pérez said, “Colleges and universities are reinventing a process that hasn’t changed in over 50 years in the span of a couple of months […] and they don’t have another choice.”

The same article included insight from Tulane University’s Director of Undergraduate Admissions Jeff Schiffman.

“We’re going to have to hit the reset button hard on this one,” Schiffman said. “It’s going to take a compete retraining of how we review applications and what we’re looking for. We’re kind of figuring it out as we go.”

As admissions counselors figure out how to navigate these new waters, students and college counselors are adjusting to the ever-changing atmosphere. In all honesty, it’s terrifying to be embarking on such a crucial process while the people who do this for a living don’t know what tomorrow looks like in college admissions.

In the grand scheme of things, a bit of extra work on college applications is far from a bad thing. I have been able to “visit” a wide variety of schools and participate in many of the same programs I would have in person, and I owe those opportunities to the people who work in admissions and put together a multitude of resources—as well as our college counselors at the School who have not let the current circumstances deter them from teaching us about the process and ensuring applications are sent in on time.

Although there is a lot of uncertainty about the next few months for me, between college and everyday life, I am truly grateful to have the opportunity to apply to college. I have faith everything will work out in the end.