College Applications in the COVID-era

By Lauren Schiller
Leader Student Contributor
Each fall, high school seniors spend hours crafting the perfect college essay, take and retake the SAT and ACT, and buff up their extracurricular list, all to secure a spot at their dream college. This year, though, there’s a catch: COVID, which has wormed its way into almost every facet of the college search and application process.
According to The Journal, an education technology news publication, 47 states shut down school last spring, forcing millions of students to learn online for the first time. SAT and ACTs were cancelled, extracurricular activities stopped, and college tours halted. Even this school year, many students are still learning online.

Lauren Schiller

In the midst of this uncertainty, seniors are applying to college. 32% of seniors even say COVID lowered their likelihood of enrolling in college (polling by Third Way and New America). A financial impact of COVID survey conducted by Junior Achievement states 57% of teens worry about COVID’s impact on their future. Furthermore, 44% of upperclassmen indicate their college finance plans have changed.
After watching two older siblings apply to college, Oxford senior Clare Decker doesn’t think COVID made college applications more stressful. However, she does feel campus closures caused applying to college to “lose some of its luster.” She found it challenging to answer the “Why this school?” questions because she “had never actually been on these university’s campuses.”
The biggest shift? Reconsidering location. Decker said COVID forced her to “contemplate if I would be willing to live in certain areas if the virus was still a concern,” which led her to scrap some out-of-state schools.
COVID also forced Oxford senior Nolan Kutchey to focus on location, as well as cost. He said he always pictured living on campus but that now he’s also “considering staying home or commuting if college classes are still mainly online.” Like many students, Kutchey doesn’t “want to spend thousands of dollars for online classes” while living out-of-state.
Kutchey also agreed that the lack of formal college tours made it challenging to apply to a school. Additionally, he felt that due to the cancellation of job opportunities and extracurriculars “it’s been harder to build a more unique resume.”
However, both Decker and Kutchey have found silver linings. Time spent during the stay at home orders allowed Decker to spend more time “perfecting” college essays. She said “the content of my applications was improved because of this extra time to reflect.”
Likewise, Kutchey felt the admissions process was actually made easier “because there’s more time for applications, testing is optional and there is an additional optional essay on the Common App to explain how Covid has affected you.”
Despite the difficult nature of applying to college during a pandemic, both Decker and Kutchey are looking forward to next year and whatever lies in store.
Whitney Soule, Dean of Admissions and Student Aid at Bowdoin College penned advice for high school seniors in The Conversation, an independent, non-profit commentary and analysis publication written by academics and edited by journalists. Soule reminds students that over 400 colleges promised not submitting an SAT or ACT score won’t be disadvantageous. Furthermore, she states recommendation letters from online teachers are acceptable. According to Soule, student personality will also be a major admissions factor this year.
The American business magazine Forbes authored a Guide to College Admissions During the Pandemic which encourages students to take virtual tours. Students should also share what they did during lockdown, but they should share their COVID-19 experience only if it’s significant.

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