By Marissa Yelenik
In the wake of COVID-19, countless things have changed both academically and socially for each and every person. As the early action and early decision deadlines grow near for the seniors of 2021, many students have a similar question: What’s going on with college applications?
Colleges understand that this year is different, and that certain factors they considered important cannot be held in the same light as they were in previous years. This has resulted in a change in how they present themselves, what is required on applications, and the overall process.
Due to a lack of availability for many seniors, a significant number of colleges have switched to test optional, meaning they will not require SAT or ACT scores, with even the Ivy League schools switching for this academic year. This allows students who were unable to get to take their test in time to apply regardless of their situation. It is important for each student applying this year to check if their colleges of choice are test optional, and figure out what this means for them. Test optional does not mean test blind, so those with good scores should feel confident in submitting them, despite their new label.
Maham Zaidi, a senior at Hammond, pointed out that not only does this new policy help those that were unable to take the tests, but it also gives those who did more options, by saying that “depending on my own scores, I will be open to admitting different test scores in order to heighten my chances of acceptance.” Mrs. Sivell, one of Hammond’s guidance counselors, weighed in on the subject, saying that even if everything goes back to normal, the way that colleges approach admissions this year may change the process forever, by stating “I believe colleges will view a student in a way they may not have before [due to the lack of standardized testing], meaning the essay and activities in which a student participated will have more weight. Letters of recommendation may matter more than they have in previous years. I think colleges are going to be moving to a more student-centered approach to admissions than just looking at numbers.” On a similar note, senior Neeth Mukku added that “I hope they get rid of the standardized testing in general. There must be a better way to test students, perhaps through a demonstration of knowledge or passion for a certain subject.”
Colleges have also decided to switch around the idea of college tours, as many have switched to virtual classes anyways. The idea of a virtual tour provides extra accessibility to all students, but it is not the same as an in person tour. Although colleges are trying their best, they cannot include the atmosphere of the campus life when it is in full swing. Senior Megan Gould expressed her own discomfort with the idea, saying “I am very upset about there not being many in-person tours. While yes the virtual tours and open-house sessions colleges are holding are very informative and accessible, there are just some things you can’t determine through a computer.” She went on to detail how she fell in love with a college through a virtual tour, but when she attended a socially distanced in-person tour, she came to the conclusion that the school was not for her. In contrast, Zaidi stated that “although in-person college tours are more ideal, the accessibility of virtual tours is something that is incredibly important to have as an option.”
Certain changes of this application season are not on the college’s part, but instead the student’s. This year, which has become largely online for much of the country, has caused students to become very strained when it comes to extracurriculars and service hours, neither of which have been directly addressed by the majority of colleges. Many students have grown nervous about how they will appear on applications without certain clubs or activities that they planned on being a part of. Gould stated that “[Howard County] is trying to get a safe sports season started, which is nice because then I’d be able to show I was a part of highschool soccer all four years. However, for Theatre, I have only been in one show. I had planned on doing Theatre for 11th and 12th grade, but that isn’t happening now.” In “Care Counts in Crisis: College Admissions Deans Respond to COVID-19,” the Making Caring Common project at Harvard gives a summary of 315 college admissions deans on the very topic. The survey showed that “no student will be disadvantaged for not engaging in extracurricular activities during this time, and they state that students will not be disadvantaged for lost possibilities for summer involvement… that have been cancelled or altered.”
In addition to the obvious struggles, seniors have had difficulty in understanding the basics of the application process due to lost time between themselves and their counselors. Hammond is attempting to remedy this problem through information in English classes and extra online meetings, but not all students are taking English this semester, and even those that are still find the information given less than optimal. Zaidi provided a new solution, saying “I feel that perhaps more information could be shared during bear time in order to benefit students who are having trouble understanding certain aspects of the process on their own.” Mukku added in with his own personal struggles with the process, detailing how he had to learn a lot of things from the site Reddit, saying “I absolutely would have been lost had I not done this. I would not have been able to make plans about where I would like to apply, learn to write a proper essay, and I wouldn’t have even known the first step to applying. Although school counselors tell us some of these things, it was helpful to know them beforehand, and I still feel as though there are some things I don’t know.”
School counselor, Mr. Kosisky, added that “It is much more difficult to interact and connect with students virtually, than it is to walk into a classroom and present information and hand out information. The application process is just that, a process that takes time and has multiple steps, so it is has been difficult making sure students know how to submit things online and what the process involves, without seeing them face to face.” The counselors encourage seniors to contact them when necessary, and take advantage of the resources they have put together to help the community get through this challenging year.
The class of 2021 is facing more obstacles in the college admissions process than those who tread the path before them, and were not able to receive resources in the same way, but Hammond’s guidance counselors are trying to make this process as easy and comprehensive as it can be. For anyone that is confused about what they need to do throughout this process, please contact your counselor, or select Student Services in Hammond High School Student Resources in Canvas. Resources are being provided, so please take the time to look through them in order to have the best chance of success, and remember not to be afraid of contacting your counselor for any additional questions you may have.