A New Age For College Applications

The Coronavirus pandemic has completely transformed seniors’ traditional college admissions process. How do students make themselves stand out in a world of no Standardized Test Scores, altered grading policies, and compromised extracurricular activities?

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Ramisa Promi

“It’s been rough for me, as it was for the other seniors applying for college,” said Ashley Jung ’21.

The college application process has always been an intimidating journey. Where one goes to college can affect their future career, income, where they live after college, and even who their lifelong friends become. The process has always been time-consuming, complicated, and sometimes frustrating. This year, the Coronavirus pandemic has completely uprooted the traditional admissions process for seniors, and in many ways it has made it more difficult than ever.

In these complicated times, grades, extracurriculars, and essays matter more than ever in the college applications process. Colleges that holistically review applications will have to read even more closely in order to better understand what differentiates students during the Coronavirus pandemic. They will also have to adjust their individual selection processes in order to allow for test-optional applicants to be fairly evaluated against other applicants who were able to submit test scores.

A number of high school seniors have experienced trouble finding convenient places to take standardized tests during the Coronavirus pandemic. Some have even traveled out of state in order to find an open testing center. “My SAT exam was canceled the day before the test. I reserved a spot for every available test date, but I had to change each test site at least three times. I finally got to take my first SAT in September 2020 in Connecticut. It’s bizarre that my family had to drive to a different state for just one test, but that’s the current reality,” said Ashley Jung ’21. Other students have health issues or immunocompromised family members that prevent them from leaving the safety of their homes in order to take an in-person standardized test. “I was hesitant to leave my house and take the test because my grandmother lives with us, and I didn’t want to potentially expose her. Ultimately, I had to take the test, but worrying for my grandma was constantly in the back of my mind,” said Nivaj Haque ’21.

The National Association for College Admission Counseling released a statement stating, “Due to the cancellation of SAT and ACT testing dates, more than 1,200 U.S. colleges and universities announced they are moving to a test-optional policy, and more will surely follow. By going test-optional, institutions are making a definitive statement that they will not need test scores to make admission decisions this year. Colleges with test-optional policies in place affirm that they will not penalize students for the absence of a standardized test score. Together, we strongly endorse a student-centered, holistic approach to admission that will not disadvantage any student without a test score.” Ultimately, the decision to apply as a test-optional candidate for college admission is the applicant’s choice alone. If prospective students wants to submit their test results, then they should research past entering score ranges for the universities that they are considering before deciding whether or not to submit an application for admission.

Selective colleges generally focus on a student’s high-school transcripts in order to determine which applicants gain acceptance. Universities often consider grades and courses in order to predict success during a student’s undergraduate years. Test scores become relevant when admissions officers have questions regarding these two criteria. Are a student’s courses rigorous enough? Are their grades consistent or inconsistent?

In the Spring 2020 term after the Coronavirus pandemic forced many schools across the country to go to entirely virtual formats, students were presented with new academic standards. For some, the new measures presented an opportunity for growth in their applications, but for others, it created a challenge that they had never anticipated. “My junior year grades aren’t the most outstanding, and I was trying to make my grades stand out during my senior year, so that it would reveal that I have improved. That plan isn’t going to work out,” said Jung.

In addition, due to social distancing restrictions in effect, a plethora of extracurricular activities were limited or stopped altogether. “I had internships and volunteer work lined up for the summer of 2020, but they all were canceled. It left me struggling to find new opportunities that would make me stand out as an applicant,” said Haque. While extracurricular activities are important in making a prospective student stand out, colleges do understand that the Coronavirus pandemic has limited the number of opportunities available to students. Even if a student only has a few extracurricular activities listed, the most important thing is to highlight the experience they have gained from participating in these activites.

While the college application process may seem more challenging than ever, it is important to remember that seniors all over America (and the world) are experiencing this together. View your application holistically, similar to how college admissions officers will be viewing it during this time of the Coronavirus pandemic.

While the college application process may seem more challenging than ever, it is important to remember that seniors all over America (and the world) are experiencing this together. View your application holistically, similar to how college admissions officers will be viewing it during this time of the Coronavirus pandemic.

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