During the pandemic, a lot of affairs have been uncertain and the college admissions process for the class of 2020-2021 is no exception. Whether it is for in-state or out-of-state schools one common theme is that schools are going test-optional for this year’s applicants.
“I think the big difference this year is that everyone is aware that the SAT and ACT are not required for UC or CSU schools admissions,” Counselor Caroline Hoj said. “Private schools across the US have also gone test-optional for this year.”
Test-optional admissions mean that student’s scores on standardized tests will neither benefit or count against them if they choose to not submit scores. This brings a challenge when deciding what information students want to include in their application to help them stand out. The UC schools are not currently accepting or using test scores at all during their admissions decisions this year.
“Applicants are hard at work presenting themselves in the best light possible to colleges,” Counselor Laura Triantafyllos said. “Without SAT or ACT scores, colleges are taking a more holistic review process in admissions. Grades, extracurricular activities (clubs, sports, volunteer work, internships) and essays are playing a bigger role in college admissions; but grades have always been the most important aspect of an application and that hasn’t changed.”
A holistic review process is looking at an application and seeing it as a whole and not just individual parts. This review process can be seen in the new Cal State and UC applications.
“The Cal State application now has a work experience section and volunteer hours,” Hoj said. “They said that this wasn’t part of the evaluation process and was more to see what students took part in. The UC schools have also been very clear that they have a holistic review and that they are taking it all into account. Everything plays a role.”
In addition to this holistic approach, schools have given students the chance to give insight on how the pandemic has affected them or their families.
“We have noticed how applications have adapted to the pandemic because on the common app there is a covid question,” Hoj said. “Schools want to know if the pandemic has affected you personally with grades, family finances, or anything like that. Applicants should be focusing on taking their time while filling out the application and if the pandemic has affected them personally or their family to make sure they tell the colleges that because it will help give context to the student’s application and show they have gone through something.”
Another uncertainty that arose during the application process was the impact on acceptance rates. Due to the pandemic, some students who were meant to be incoming freshmen decided to defer their acceptance and plan to attend college fall of 2021 instead. This added to the questioning of available space at colleges.
“There are differences of opinions on this, but some believe that there are a significant number of seniors who deferred acceptance last year and will take spots from our seniors this year,” Triantafyllos said. “However, there hasn’t been hard statistics to support this. Some feel that international and out of state students may wish to stay close to home, therefore giving California applicants a greater chance of getting into the most selective public schools in California.”
The unpredictability of being accepted can also relate to the uncertainty of actually applying to these schools. Students usually are able to visit the campus of the colleges they are applying to, but with the pandemic, campus visits have gone virtual. Schools have been trying to make up for this absence with webinars and virtual tours that can be offered to any prospective student.
“Something colleges have really stepped up this year with is campus tours,” Hoj said. “That’s always something that I would look for, just for students who didn’t have the means to visit college campuses. Virtual college visits are open to all students on Naviance right now. These visits consist of a campus representative giving a presentation specifically for San Marin students.”
Online campus tours have allowed students to be able to better get to know the schools they are applying to without actually visiting them. This isn’t ideal for most students but it is a step towards normalcy during this time.
“I have been to so many virtual events,” senior Emma Rice said. “People are usually able to go to in-person tours so not being able to see the schools this year isn’t ideal. I feel like it makes applying this year that much more of a challenge.”