College admissions policies shift during pandemic, counselors maintain strategies

Miles Wooldridge

The competitiveness of the college admissions process has been a constant in the lives of high school seniors for decades. However, since Covid-19, this process has been restructured, and students are having to find ways to cope with the changing educational landscape.

With schools across the nation varying their return to in-person strategies, colleges are receiving limited amounts of data from students, and, according to the Georgetown University Office of Advancement, many are rethinking the way they accept students entirely. Because in-person standardized testing is still not allowed in some locations, most schools have gone test-optional. As a result, most students only send in their tests if they are proud of their grade, so the average grade is skewed up. According to a report published by the Common App, 46 percent of applicants sent their test scores in the 2020-2021 season, which is in stark contrast to the 77 percent in 2019-2020. Institutions that did not require standardized tests went from 40 percent to about 91 percent. While Covid-19 can be recognized as the catalyst for a more official abandonment of standardized tests, the argument against them has been built up now for years.

“I think the combo of GPA and written personal statements is the best way for colleges to evaluate students,” senior Sydney Knodel said. “I am not a big fan of standardized tests and I don’t think they are as good of indicators for skill level compared to academic honors, GPA, etc.”

She is not alone in this opinion. States like California have passed legislation making all standardized testing optional and allegations of bias have been in circulation long before lockdowns and mask mandates, so the role of standardized testing may be diminished for good. Another noticeable trend is the increase in the amount of college applications per student.

I am not a big fan of standardized tests and I don’t think they are as good of indicators for skill level compared to academic honors, GPA, etc.

Sydney Knodel, senior

The National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) found that 36 percent of students applied to seven or more colleges in 2016, which is double the rate of 10 years prior. And Pew Research Center reported that colleges that admitted less than 20 percent of applicants received 110 percent more applications between 2002 and 2017. The same report showed colleges are not accepting more students at rates fast enough to match the rising number of applications per year, so colleges are becoming unavoidably more competitive. At ESD, these trends are visibly reflected in the student body. According to our college advisory department, ESD seniors submit 8.2 applications each on average. This is far above the NACAC’s reported national average, but taking into account that ESD is a college preparatory school, this figure is only slightly higher than is typically recommended. Gonzales said that applying to six or seven schools generally works best for students.

“If you apply to 20 schools, no matter what [the college guidance department does] you’re going to be working half of your senior year on all of the extra stuff,” Gonzales said. “Nothing makes [the process] more stressful than that.”

She believes it is important to recognise the detrimental effects of applying to too many colleges, not just for oneself, but for our peers. Gonzales also believes that the more schools that a student applies to, the less the student generally knows about each school. And getting into more colleges can be less of an advantage because a student may not know if they actually want to go to the school they got into. Simultaneously, if a student applies and gets into a competitive school, but they don’t plan on attending, it still becomes significantly harder for the student’s peers to get into the same competitive school. By choosing to pursue bulk instead of “controlling your list,” in Gonzales’ words, you could be ruining another student’s chances of getting into their dream college.

Data that thoroughly explains college admissions in a post-Covid-19 world is very recent and still hard to find, but as more is released, it is hard to see how things will ever be quite the same. Even so, there is plenty of hope. College tours are once more being done in-person. ESD’s College Essay Writing and College Application Workshop courses were offered and attended by Knodel and many other seniors over the summer.

Knodel is “so grateful for all the help” that the College Guidance Counselors have provided. Research into schools as well as beginning the application process has taught her that she would be happy pretty much anywhere on her list.

“My guidance counselor are always going out of their way to check in on me and make sure I have everything turned in on time,” Knodel said. “They have helped me narrow down what [colleges] I am interested in. I am fully prepared for the next stage of my life.”

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