How the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting the college admissions process

As junior and senior year rolls around for many of Dana Hall’s students, the milestone of beginning the college process begins… and even an international pandemic can’t stop it. The summer going into senior year is a vital time in a student’s life to visit college campuses, take the SAT or ACT, bulk up her resume, and begin deciding where she wants to go to college. However, the spread of COVID-19 and quarantine are making all of those things much more difficult. 

Since we are living in such uncertain times, many new questions are being raised about the college process: How will admissions change amid the Covid-19 pandemic? Will it be easier or harder to get into schools? How will rising college freshmen deferring for a year affect the following year’s admissions? In short, the answer is we don’t quite know yet. However, Director of Dana Hall’s College Counseling staff Cara Hanig has a few guesses and advice for rising seniors preparing for their future. 

Deciding where you want to spend the next four years of your life is not an easy decision. The decision gets much harder when the privilege of being able to visit each campus and town is taken away. However, colleges have provided many new resources for students to virtually tour and learn about the school. Although virtual experiences aren’t the same, Ms. Hanig “strongly encourages” students to do everything they can to research schools and try to get a feel of what they’re like. Colleges have “robust” virtual visits for students to take. As Gabby Cannata ’21 put it, “It’s hard to get a real feel for a school without visiting it, but the resources colleges are providing makes it a bit easier.” There are virtual tours, virtual information sessions, YouTube videos, and websites dedicated to casual campus tours and reviews. There are so many resources available to us that it is still possible to get a good sense of a college virtually.

Another concern for juniors is the March and May cancellations of the SAT and the postponing of the April ACT to June. Although College Board and the ACT have added extra testing dates in the fall, over 1,200 colleges and universities have already gone test-optional for Fall 2021 admissions. The entire University of California system officially went test-optional, a trend many other colleges continue to follow. As Lily Segal ’21 explained, “colleges going test optional relieves some of the stress I have been having about the college process, especially because I haven’t had the opportunity to take a test yet.”

 Schools becoming test-optional shifts academic focus on to grade point average and course rigor. As Ms. Hanig explained, “test-optional schools read applications completely differently than test score-required schools.” The shift of going test-optional will lead admission offices into focusing on new things. As Tufts University explained in their official statement, they will evaluate each student’s “candidacy in a nuanced and contextual way” with or without test scores.

 The rise of test-optional schools could also change the future of the ACT and the SAT because, as Ms. Hanig explained, it will be hard for colleges to “turn around and add testing back in” once this is over. This fear will encourage ACT and College Board to “do everything they can to get students an opportunity to take a test.” However, many people are “cheering for the fact” that these tests are becoming optional due to the unfair statistics of how closely success rates on the tests correlate with income and money spent on tutors and practice.

As the class of 2020 prepares to graduate high school, the uncertain future of a fall semester on college campuses raises many questions for students and their families on possibly deferring for a year and starting college in the fall of 2021. Taylor Levin ’20 says that she and her family “have definitely been discussing it, and my dad wants me to defer because paying for a semester of online classes isn’t the same as paying for what I would have been getting.”

Some juniors have worried that such deferrals might affect their own college admissions, but Ms. Hanig is not worried. Although there will be more deferrals than usual, Ms. Hanig “doesn’t believe the numbers will be big enough to affect the class of 2021” because colleges “can’t survive without the tuition money.” Due to the uncertainty of the future, Ms. Hanig explained that “all we have to do is wait… I’m guessing in June or July colleges will begin making those calls.” 

Another interesting ripple for juniors would be international college students who might be forced to defer because they are legally not able to come back into the country. Colleges would not be able to penalize them for something they have no control over, and so they would be forced to defer a year.

For students who planned on attending a summer program or having a job or internship that has now been cancelled, Ms. Hanig encourages you to form your own project at home. Whether it’s cooking or learning to play the guitar,  Ms. Hanig says, “the best thing you can do is to do something or learn something you’ve always wanted to but never had the time.” Ms. Hanig’s suggestion goes hand in hand with the Common Application’s new addition of a section for students to comment on the impact the pandemic has had on their lives. This is an opportunity for students to do something they’re passionate about and share it with colleges. Although learning a new hobby may not quite measure up to a summer program or hobby you had lined up, Ms. Hanig explains that “colleges are not going to care what you do; they will care why you do it.”

The College Counseling office at Dana Hall has been doing their best to virtually relay all of the information needed for the class of 2021 to prepare for their senior year and college admissions. This includes weekly Forum classes with occasional guest college representatives, continuing one-on-one meetings with college counselors, and an end-of-year college essay writing workshop. A main struggle for the College Counseling team is that the classes and workshops are not required. Due to our international students in different time zones, it’s impossible to make one required time work for all students. However, the counseling team has been recording each class and posting them on Schoology for students who weren’t in attendance to still get the necessary information. 

Image source: The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) responds to COVID-19.

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