Applying to College During a Pandemic

November 10, 2020

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Massachusetts Institute of Technology

October is a relatively mellow time of the year for most students, but for seniors, it is certainly the most stressful. College essays, the ACT, the SAT, interviews, tours, teacher recommendations… seniors are flooded with so many responsibilities and decisions. College application season is already stressful enough, but add a pandemic on top of that, and you have a whole other list of complications to deal with. Seniors, Sofia Erlin and Siddhi Narayan discuss what the process has been like for them.

“The college application process has been super stressful because everything is online, and it’s hard to get everything in order. For example, ACT has been falling apart. My account has an error, so I contacted them a month ago and they still haven’t fixed it, and I need to send my scores,” said Erlin.

College interviews have also changed. While Zoom has allowed them to stay relatively similar, the questions asked by both the interviewer and interviewee have had to adapt to the current situation. In Erlin’s interview with the University of Washington, she asked about their COVID plan.

“It was interesting because they don’t allow students to defer admission, so that was something that was important to know, since if I were to attend and COVID was really bad and everything was online, I would have to go,” she said.

According to College Reaction, a polling and analytics firm for students, usually around 1-2% of students decide to defer, but this year, around 4% plan on it. Many students decide to take a gap year because they would rather wait in order to have the full college experience. College is expensive, and to some, online classes are just not worth the price. Deciding to defer and take a gap year is something else seniors will have to add to their ongoing list of decisions this year.

In Narayan’s interview, they talked about other recent events.

“My interviewer didn’t really ask me anything about COVID-19, but she did ask me about any discrimination I have faced as a woman of color. She was a woman of color as well, and the school is a predominantly white school, so that may have had something to do with it. We then talked about race relations and how important it is to lift up those who are less privileged than you. I talked about how while I do face some level of oppression as a woman of color, it is not nearly as much as someone who is black, and how important it is to amplify black voices as much as we can. We talked about the BLM movement as well. I really enjoyed it!” said Narayan.

While online interviews aren’t much of a change from in-person ones, virtual college visits have been a whole new experience.

“It sucks that we aren’t able to visit campuses… It’s made choosing an action plan a little harder because there’s no way of fully getting a feel for the universities” said Narayan.

CHS counselor, Ms. Blair shares her thoughts on the matter.

“Students are stressed because they have not had the opportunity to walk on a campus visit and see how they feel. There’s always something to be said for just knowing that a campus is a good fit or not as soon as you walk on the campus. The seniors have been robbed of that opportunity” said Blair.

Fortunately, every few weeks, juniors and seniors get an email from their college counselor about what colleges are holding virtual tours soon.

“Virtual college tours are not ideal but they’re better than nothing. College’s pivoted to virtual meetings and online information sessions very quickly. Our platform Maia Learning and most other platforms, quickly came up with a venue through which colleges could reach students. We still have colleges sign up to ‘visit’ CHS. Students log in to their Maia Learning account and sign up for the college visit. Once they sign up they are sent a link to the zoom meeting with that particular college. College fairs have also moved to a virtual format. I would not be surprised if some schools continue to make virtual high school visits as that’s much lighter on their travel budget. I sit on a lot of admissions advisory boards at various universities and they have continued to meet virtually to get advice on how to reach students during the pandemic. Colleges are just as worried about students applying and attending as students are about getting into the college they want to attend. This is certainly a unique year, but I’m pretty convinced it will change admissions in many ways” said Blair.

Another step in the applications process that has been more challenging are teacher recommendations.

“It’s also hard with teacher recs because you can’t just walk by their classroom and ask how it’s going- you have to send a full email,” said Erlin.

These recommendations are crucial in applications, and losing the ability to ask in person makes for a more time consuming and awkward process.

Fortunately, all of these complications have been made easier by the CHS college counselors.

“We have App labs (application labs) twice a week (with both college counselors) and individual office hours once every week. This is a time where students can just drop in with questions about the application process or their specific applications. It’s actually a bit easier because we can share screens and show students exactly what they need to do. This format is really helpful because sometimes you don’t know what your questions are until you hear other student’s questions. But we also utilize breakout rooms when students need a more private conversation so we can go to a breakout room to discuss their questions. Ms Bell, the senior counselor, has also come to the meetings just to hang out with the seniors. It’s a little college party. We try to have some fun. Today, we said we were gonna put together an app lab playlist so we can have some college application music” said Blair.

Erlin also said, “CHS college counselors have been really helpful, and the Zoom meetings don’t seem that different from how they would be in person.”

There have even been some benefits that have come out of the situation.

“I think one of the major positives that has come from this is the fact that scores are not being required by most universities. There has long been a debate within the university college admissions about scores and whether or not they were equitable, accurate, and necessary. This year most colleges, no matter how selective, are being forced to make decisions without scores. This will be quite informative and will certainly affect the process in the future. I am on the advisory board for the Fiske guide which is a major college search tool. Our last meetings have focused on whether or not to remove standardized test scores as one of the factors by which students search for/sort schools. It has also been helpful for junior family meetings. Oftentimes, it’s difficult to get a family together for a college meeting due to traveling parents, work schedules, etc. Zoom family meetings have made it possible to include more family members which has been a really positive part of the process” said Blair.

So much has had to be changed during these “unprecedented times” leading to a lot of additional stress especially for something as important as applying to colleges. There are many downsides to having to go through the application process during a pandemic, but fortunately, a few positives have come out of it as well. CHS students are trying to make the most of the situation and their college counselors are always here to help.

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