COVID-19 complicates college admissions process, applicants find new ways to learn about schools 

Lauren Weber

Senior Olivia Hagge is walking around a college campus—virtually. Scrolling through Google Earth, Hagge is taking herself on her own tour. 

In a Sept. 26 poll of 141 juniors and seniors upperclassmen, 101 have faced cancellations with college visits and standardized tests. 73 percent of seniors have utilized social media, Youtube and sites like Campus Reels to gain an authentic look at schools. 

“I think the hardest part has just been having to apply and not really know what the campus looks like, where it is, how easy it is to get to [and] what the restaurants are around it,” senior Hadley Mattocks said. “Just like the stuff that you learn when you go on an [in person] tour.”

Although many colleges have gone test-optional for this year, some 66 percent of seniors still plan on submitting scores. Senior Christopher Hess faced ACT test cancellations in April, June and July but was finally able to take it on Sept. 12 in Brownwood, Texas.

“It’s been canceled every single month [for me],” Hagge said. “It’s been adding a lot of stress because I’m prepared, and I’m getting into this headspace where I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m taking it.’ Then, I get to the day before and they’re like, ‘Oh it’s canceled,’ so I just feel defeated in a way.”

The college guidance office realizes the stress and uncertainty many students are facing. To mitigate some of it, ESD is offering the SAT and ACT in October exclusively for ESD students. Over fifty seniors have signed up, and More Than a Teacher, a test preparation company, is offering tutoring services. 

“One of the primary roles and functions of this office is that we’re the stress handlers,” Director of College Guidance Chris Gonzales said. “We’re trying to smooth [the process] out for [students] as much as possible.”

Beginning in September, college guidance will also be facilitating Zoom meetings with numerous main feeder colleges during non-school hours. 

“Things this year in the college process [are] going to look different, but I’m proud to say that my office and all of us here are going to remain the same,” Gonzales said. “That means that [the students] will all get very individualized, committed help through the process.”

The Common App and Coalition App have added a question regarding COVID-19 to their applications. 

“There is a whole set of training that we have to do so that our counselors, as they’re reviewing files, can learn how to evaluate the students academic potential without those test scores, which actually had pretty limited predictive value to begin with,” Texas Christian University Dean of Admissions Heath Einstein said.  

Einstein and his staff will also undergo training as to how to value each individual applicant’s story, as many students will likely write about COVID-19 and other recent topics. In taking a contextual approach to evaluation, Einstein says that a high school’s decision to go pass or fail last semester will not negatively affect them, although he speculates that this may place a greater emphasis on ninth and tenth grade grades. 

“For every recommendation letter that we write for every senior this fall that goes to every college, we’re going to have a little disclaimer paragraph at the beginning of the letter that says: our kids took real classes, real finals, worked hard, our grades are 100 percent a reflection of our kids’ work and the way they were handling a very stressful time,” Gonzales said. “I think we’re going to see a lot of dividends paid from that.”

Gonzales, however, does believe that seniors’ grades this fall, as well as short answer questions on applications, will count more than ever. Another major concern among colleges is the growing inequities that COVID-19 has accentuated. Early decision in many colleges may be a place where this is seen. 

“I do think that there are a lot of colleges, whether they’re willing to admit it or not on the record, that will be much more aggressive in admitting students early because of the financial uncertainty that [the institutions] find themselves in,” Einstein said. “The more students you can lock in early, the greater sense of security you have with your incoming class.”

Despite these inequities, Einstein has found that using a virtual platform has allowed TCU to reach students from a wider range of socio-economic backgrounds. 

“If we were traveling right now and I went to any major metropolitan area, I only have a finite amount of time, and I’m most likely going to spend that time at high schools that are going to be likeliest to send students to TCU,” Einstein said. “That automatically creates a divide.”

After making modifications to last year’s incoming class due to COVID-19, Einstein and his staff found that distance did not affect those coming to TCU. Nevertheless, the instability and uncertainty that the virus has created will affect students’ application choices.  

“I’m more confused about [the college admissions process] than I was before the whole thing started,” Mattocks said. “There are some schools that I’m applying to now that I wasn’t originally applying to because I didn’t really think I had a shot getting in, but now it’s kind of all up in the air, so I might as well just apply.”

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