Pandemic conditions complicate college admissions

What you need to know about the college admissions process during COVID-19

Applying for college is a stress filled endeavor under normal circumstances, but the current COVID-19 pandemic is forcing an overhaul on the college admissions process, adding additional layers of anxiety for everyone involved.

With limited available standardized (ACT or SAT) testing, and the restricted number of college visits happening, applicants are facing a whole new set of challenges. However, some pandemic related changes to the traditional college admissions process are being welcomed by many, and in the opinion of some, are overdue.

The most significant change that over half of US colleges and universities are enacting, is going test-optional (applicants can decide whether or not they want to submit a standardized test score) or test-blind (applicants are not allowed to submit a standardized test score).

Some universities are even opting to make that change permanent, jumping on a trend that was gaining momentum pre-pandemic. Instead, admissions officers will be doing a more holistic review of student hopefuls, focusing more on GPA, course rigor (such as AP and CIS classes), the personal statement, and letters of recommendation.

Minnehaha Counselor Christine Paton supports this approach and is hopeful more colleges adopt this holistic review.

“There are great students who are very strong at academics and solid students who just don’t test well,” she said. “So we’re not 100% convinced that standardized testing is a true indicator of a student’s success in college or in their career or in their future.”

However, if you’re hoping to take the SAT or ACT, the counselors recommend trying to get a test scheduled even if it has to wait until February or March.

Despite all the pandemic related changes, junior Annis Cairns is still planning on keeping her college admissions process as traditional as possible.

“My plans for the ACT are not changing,” Cairns said. “I’m going to take it in the spring of my junior year, and if I need to, maybe the fall of my senior year.”

Another challenge college applicants are facing is the limited availability of college visits. Many colleges are going virtual in many ways with tours, visits with reps, and college fairs available online.

Even if it has to wait until spring, Paton emphasizes the importance of visiting a campus in person.

“I’m a firm believer that when you get on campus you’re going to feel it,” she said.

The main advice Paton has for juniors is to begin thinking about the college admissions process. Start doing research, talking to college reps, and narrowing down what you want in a college. Think about
taking a standardized test around this spring, but continue to enjoy high school.

For seniors, Paton advises to make an effort to enjoy senior year as much as possible, ask questions, and come see the counselors for any help or support. Don’t procrastinate on applications and continue connecting with college reps. Ultimately, Paton advises to remain calm and trust things will fall into place.

“In the whole process, there are some things that you put yourself out there, you look at the college, and then you wait for the process to complete itself and not get too anxious,” Paton said. “I firmly believe doors will open where they’re supposed to open and they will close where they’re supposed to close, and you’ll end up where you’re supposed to be.”

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About Grace Kassebaum

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