COVID’s Impact on Students During College Applications

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COVID has greatly impacted the last two senior classes: schools transitioned online and sports were canceled. Although this school year is closer to normal since COVID hit, the college application process has changed for both current and upcoming applications. 

Standardized testing was a major component in college admissions around five years ago, but over the years, these scores have had less of an impact on application decisions. After COVID-19 hit, lots of colleges transitioned to a test optional system where applicants are not impacted if they do not submit scores. 

“I think that [having a test optional policy] is a fair thing that [colleges] have done because a lot of [students] might not be able to get into a test center, so it levels the playing field,” director of Stone Bridge counseling Tim Lucas said, “The standardized test reflects how you have done in four hours of your life, not the four years you’ve been in high school.”

Students at Stone Bridge also think the new approach colleges are taking is beneficial for a variety of reasons. The key reason is that students no longer have as much pressure on them about a huge test. 

“I think [the] test optional [policy] is great; it’s less stressful and one less thing to pull your hair out over,” senior Delia Kumar said, “Test optional allows for more opportunities for those who can’t afford to take those exams like the SATs and was incredibly helpful now since so many have financial issues from COVID.”

Senior Shona Aceto not only agreed that applications would be less stressful because of this new policy, but also thinks it will make applications in the future more personal. The change in events from COVID made her reorder what is important to her for college and for the future going forward.

The standardized test reflects how you have done in four hours of your life, not the four years you’ve been in high school. ”

— Head of Guidance Tim Lucas

“COVID has impacted what I want to learn in college and my priorities in general.” Aceto said, “I was adopted from China and before COVID, I started to look into my past as well as plan trips to go back. However, COVID cause[d] all of these things to be put on hold and that disappointment led to my decision to change future majors in college.”

With COVID changing college application standards, Mr. Lucas concurs with Aceto that new admissions rolling in will have more of a personal touch than in the past. Without test scores and with limited activities, students have to differentiate themselves in other aspects.

“The essays or personal statements are really important because [students] could not do volunteer work and could not get a job,” Mr. Lucas said. “Students need good grades, challenging classes, more advanced classes every year, and to continually challenge themselves to set them apart from other applicants.”

College applications are not only about the school finding the right student, but also the applicants finding the school for them. One of the most important determining factors for a high school student is setting foot on campus.

“I didn’t feel any sort of college excitement until touring in person.” Kumar said. “I’ve done a few virtual tours which were helpful, so I could get to know the school without visiting it, [but actually] visiting was more impactful [for] me.” 

Mr. Lucas, just like Kumar, made sure to stress the importance of touring a college campus in-person.

“When you do a virtual visit they try to make it look pretty, but when you go on the campus you get that gut reaction that says, ‘This is where I want to go; this is where I want to live,’” Mr. Lucas said. “Sit in a class and you will know right away. I always say: ‘You wouldn’t buy a used car without doing a test drive first.’”