When I was a kid, I loved playing with the other kids in the neighborhood. Sometimes, someone would come up with a new game for all of us to play. Invariably, in the midst of our game, someone would decide to change the rules to make the game more fun and exciting. Sometimes it worked. Other times, the changes benefited the person who made the rules. That’s when we would decide to go inside and have a snack.
While no one anticipated a pandemic, college admissions rules have changed as a result. For no group has this been more true than for the Class of 2021. As the first class to apply to college in the midst of Covid-19, I thought it would be interesting to survey a handful of students and a couple of parents to see how Covid has impacted their college application process. Some of these seniors have older siblings who applied to college pre-Covid and could speak on the differences between their experiences.
Q: How has the college application process been for you during COVID?
Student 1: It’s been really interesting, to be honest. Am I going to submit ACT scores or am I not? I just thought about that a lot. I kept wondering if my scores, which I got in February of my junior year before the pandemic hit, were going to disadvantage me compared to applicants with higher GPAs. I also had trouble accessing my scores after ACT migrated me over to MyACT. Despite these challenges, I would say the college admissions officers have been great! They helped me switch my application to be considered “without test scores,” and they were all really understanding about it. I also got into more colleges than I expected, so that’s been good.
Student 2: I definitely think it’s been harder than my sister’s application process. There’s just so much unknown. So many people took a gap year this year so I feel like it’s more competitive. Also, not being able to play sports, participate in extracurricular activities, or have consistency has truly been the hardest part. Now that the vaccine is out, and knowing that next year may return to some kind of normalcy, is motivating me to get my last college applications in. Overall, Covid has been a huge learning experience for me. I learned a lot about myself during the quarantine. I feel like I’ve become a deeper person, someone who had time to think and figure out what I wanted in life. That in itself has helped with my college application experience.
Student 3: My brother had to submit test scores and he’s really smart so everything about school came naturally to him. Not having to submit test scores helped me because I work really hard to get good grades, but I don’t test well. It’s been a huge relief not to have to take those tests.
Student 4: Unfortunately, my GPA doesn’t match my level of academics. My top schools are all test-blind so not being able to use my ACT scores for anything other than scholarships or placement, and more people applying because they don’t have to submit scores, has been a bit unfair. I actually thought the process itself was pretty easy being that all the applications were online. I don’t think Covid really changed that. I just think it was more competitive this year since people were able to apply without scores.
Student 5: Deciding which colleges to apply to was really difficult for me. I couldn’t really tour any of my colleges. Finances are an issue too because of Covid. Unless I get into one particular school, I will likely go to a community college.
Student 6: Applying as a performing arts major, all of my auditions were virtual. It would have been nice to have done some of them in person. On Zoom, it was hard to read their reactions and body language. Sometimes, I couldn’t hear what they were asking me and there were some pretty awkward moments. During these interviews, I realized I was interviewing them as much as they were interviewing me. I am glad I didn’t have to spend the money or the time traveling to some of them.
Q: What has it been like to navigate your student through the college application process in the midst of a pandemic?
Parent 1: My daughter handled the whole process. She blatantly told me to stay out of it from the beginning. I will say it was tough visiting some of the schools. Even though they were closed, we would walk around some of the campuses, grab a bite to eat, and get a sense of the size, town, and vibe. The further south we traveled, the more open colleges were. There were some colleges that bent over backwards to make us feel welcome. One school had her name on the wall when we came in. They even had people meet with us when we were there. They couldn’t have done more. I loved that school! At other schools, we had to take the initiative to find out what we wanted to know. The desk staff at the hotel we stayed at were really helpful. They would give us a map and tell us what we had to see and where to go. They were like an extension of the admissions office. I would encourage all the closed campuses to utilize their local hotels.
Parent 2: Compared to my older daughter, navigating this process with my senior was very different logistically. There was a layer of limitation and uncertainty, particularly when it came to visiting a college. For my older daughter, the admissions offices were so excited to see us whereas with my younger daughter, there was this element of fear of Covid exposure which took the excitement out of the process. We also had to consider whether the colleges would be open next fall and what type of experience they might provide if Covid were to continue. It made the whole process more pragmatic, transactional, and far less hopeful.
Of course, this is just a small sampling of perspectives. For every class, the process is new and daunting, but it has been extraordinarily so for the Class of 2021. To find out in the second half of their junior year that they could not visit a college or take a test they had been preparing for, or pursue a passion of theirs, has been difficult to watch. Some of them have had family members contract Covid or have had to quarantine due to their own exposure or illness. As one student said, Covid has given us time to reflect and evaluate our priorities. Each year, as counselors, we speak to our students about their worth apart from the college they attend or the college’s name on the sweatshirt they wear. Each year, we remind parents that the road to success is far from a straight line. While this is not a game, these students and parents are on the front lines of a new set of rules. As counselors, it is our privilege to see them through it.