After sitting hunched over my desk for the entire morning, the last thing I would ever want to do with my afternoon is return to my desk and work on college applications. Applying to colleges has always been a mentally exhausting process, but this year applications will be even more challenging and less predictable. However, these new and strange circumstances may bring some improvements to college admissions and will overall be a learning experience for future years.
Especially as a journalism student taking a condensed AP English course this semester, writing college essays and working on all the different aspects of college applications can be overly draining. Not only is completing these applications incredibly exasperating, but simply choosing colleges is a difficult task with the given circumstances. Most seniors never had and never will have the opportunity to visit the majority of the schools they are applying to and can only base their choices on virtual tours and personal research.
Although, since all colleges are test optional this year, students will rely on their grades, extracurriculars, essays, and for some schools, recommendation letters to set them apart from other applicants, rather than test scores. This seems like an improvement from other years because standardized testing has always been a challenge for students with less privileged socioeconomic backgrounds or learning disabilities, giving other students an unfair advantage in the college admissions process. Even as a person who had access to things like private tutors or study books, I have had no chances to take either standardized test, as they have been canceled due to COVID-19. Schools have acknowledged this issue and acted appropriately by having testing be optional for applicants. Many schools have also considered becoming test optional for future classes as well, which helps equal the chances for those who may struggle with standardized tests.
However, limiting the components of an application may cause even more issues for applicants. There is much more weight on long-term pieces of the application, such as grades and extracurriculars. The condensed one-semester schedule our school has chosen may be too fast paced for certain students whose grades may reflect this. Additionally, in terms of extracurriculars, many students did not have opportunities to do much volunteer work or community service last spring, this past summer, or even this fall because of COVID-19 safety restrictions. The majority of students use this time to build up their activity resume or find their passions through volunteering and internships, which was not possible. Additionally, most sports were either postponed or cancelled this year, which could affect a students list of extracurriculars, especially if they were planning on being a captain or having some other leadership position. Students who were planning on getting sports related scholarships may also lose those opportunities without a season.
Even in a scenario where a student had the ideal grades, essays, and activities for the school they were hoping to get into, there are several other factors that could keep them from being admitted. While almost no colleges have actually acknowledged this issue, many incoming college freshmen have taken gap years and will be joining the high school senior class as freshmen. There are no definitive answers yet, but this may affect the chances of students applying this year because so many spots are already filled, but schools could potentially see this issue coming and increase the size of their freshmen class accordingly. However, if they did simply increase the class size to allow equal chances for students applying this year and those who applied in years past, this may cause issues with housing, especially if the pandemic continues into fall of 2021.
Even without the standardized testing, those who struggle financially may also be affected more by college admissions. Some schools may be more likely to accept a student who is able to pay full tuition or would not need as much financial aid. However, since the number of families economically affected by COVID-19 is so high, schools may be more lenient and more supportive toward those who need more assistance. They may also accept people based on their experiences and what they will bring to the school as a student, rather than financial elements. All these thoughts are simply just ideas and there are no absolute ways to know how colleges will decide who to accept, which creates more stress for applicants.