College Admissions. They are a pivotal point in most high school students’ lives as they can be both stressful and rewarding. This pandemic has disrupted almost every aspect of daily life, and college applications are no exception. COVID-19 has forced many colleges to accommodate for the struggles high school students might be facing now, like the lack of testing opportunities or the inability to participate in multiple activities. As seniors are starting to apply this year, many people are wondering how this pandemic will affect the college application process for the future graduating classes. To understand this issue, we interviewed Julia Husen, one of IMSA’s College and Academic Counselors.
During the pandemic, an integral part of the college application process has been significantly reduced: Outreach and promotion. Many colleges depend on their outreach programs to get students to apply to their college. The colleges do this in a variety of ways, from college tours to breakfast presentations with school counselors. According to Husen, connecting with colleges has been the harshest effect of this pandemic as many of these outreach programs are all online, making it harder to communicate with the colleges. She says that the school counselors are almost like sophomores now in their interactions with universities because many colleges have new representatives and it is harder to build new connections over Zoom, causing the counselors to rely only on past connections. For example, every year, Husen goes to conferences with representatives from multiple colleges to secure a keynote speaker for IMSA’s college day. But this year, the personal connections required to find the perfect keynote speaker for college day were much harder to come by. The communication from the colleges to students have also changed as the number of group sessions and college visits have reduced heavily, with many colleges having only personal meetings with students. However, it is very likely that once a vaccine is found or COVID-19 is no longer an issue, many colleges will go back to their original ways.
On the other hand, according to Husen, CAC-student interactions are often personal and the pandemic has only increased the personal approach of the interactions. Additionally, the content of the conversation and their delivery did not change as a whole as, on campus, Naviance was the main source for any documents and information regarding college. The preexisting online structure established by Naviance, coupled with the availability of personal meetings through platforms such as Zoom, means that the overall college counseling relationship with students has not changed much through the course of the pandemic.
The pandemic will also bring many changes to other parts of the application. For starters, it is very likely for many colleges to continue with the test-optional policy in future years as well because many colleges are starting to understand how other sections of the application can be more important than standardized testing. Also, students will start to reevaluate the way they select schools, as more and more people are affected by this pandemic financially. Husen mentioned that, in the future, students will be much more pragmatic with their selections as they will be asking “What am I paying for?”. They will be questioning if it is worth paying around $70,000 to go to UC Berkeley where most of the classes will be through Zoom, rather than a cheaper school like Purdue University or the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Such a shift in philosophy would mean that students, in general, are less emotionally attached to the previous reputation of the school, but rather focus on what is best for them in terms of both education and financial situation. Students will also understand the necessity and availability of activities as colleges will also evaluate them with much less weight than in the past. Especially for juniors and sophomores, it is important to understand how practical an extracurricular activity is and whether you are doing it to impress your college or you are doing it for your passions. Every opportunity, whether small or big, will always be important to one’s application, so students need to value their efforts equally, especially at this time.
This unprecedented pandemic has brought many changes to the college process for both seniors and future classes. As we hope for COVID-19 to go away, we should focus on what is important for us and not let emotions get in the way. As Husen says, “ The biggest emotion we feel right now is loneliness, so it is important to make sure you stray away from that feeling.”