How COVID-19 will Impact College Applicants this Fall

Visiting college campuses, listening to information sessions, attending college fairs and taking the SATs were all things future college applicants had planned for this spring. However, all of those things are no longer possible due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. 

These are just a few of the things that put the class of 2021 in a unique and challenging situation regarding college applications and figuring out where to go. However, all the cancellations will not hurt juniors with their college admissions. Universities are making changes to accommodate the current situation in areas like their test score submission policies. Additionally, they will be understanding when looking at things like transcripts, and are taking all factors into account. Juniors should prepare for a busier fall than they may have anticipated, but should not worry. College admissions might look a little different for the class of 2021, but juniors should rest assured that everyone involved is doing as much as they can to make them feel as normal as possible. 

Many of the members of the class of 2021 may be stressing out, but Ella Gianino (‘21) is not concerned. “It’s all so surreal that I’m still kind of trying to understand it. I’m not worried about it [things being cancelled]. Since this is a universal problem, I think that colleges are going to adapt and adjust accordingly so that high school students don’t have to worry about making time for things or leaving the house when we’re not supposed to be leaving the house,” she said. 

Although emotions on this may be mixed, there have been some changes due to the cancellation of events this spring. The first major thing to discuss when looking at how college admissions will change overall is SATs. While many schools nationally were test optional previous to the virus, for many students the SATs remain important because most schools still require them. Additionally, a strong SAT score can help you qualify for scholarships. Most juniors will still take the SATs, regardless of if they will ultimately submit them or not. 

As far as standardized testing goes in NH, Governor Chris Sununu released a statement announcing that standardized tests would not be taking place in New Hampshire this semester.  “While remote learning has gotten off to an incredible start, we must continue to have flexibility in our approach to education, and onerous standardized tests from Washington send the wrong message to New Hampshire families who are already working hard to adapt to this new, challenging environment,” Sununu said in a press release from March 30th. 

Since then, the June SAT test has also been cancelled. To make up for this, the College Board has announced that they will provide weekend SAT administrations every month until the end of the year, beginning in August, according to “SAT dates 2019-2020” by The Princeton Review

Many students take the SAT multiple times in attempts to get the best score possible. With all these cancellations, students no longer have the same amount of time, or opportunities, they might’ve had before. 

“There’s enough stressors and pressures that students are going through now. […] There are some colleges that if you haven’t taken it yet, they don’t want you to have to take it in August or September and worry if you’re doing early action and you don’t know your scores yet. All of those things just add a lot of stress and anxiety for students,” said Kim Sekera, School Counselor.

In light of the current situation, some schools that previously required SAT scores are going test-optional for a short period of time. Among those schools are Tufts University and Boston University. Different universities are taking different approaches to this issue. 

Boston University is going test optional for those applying in the fall of 2021 or spring of 2022 for now, and will re-evaluate afterwards, according to “Coronavirus Drives Colleges to Test Optional” by Inside Higher Ed. Tufts University will be doing a three-year experiment with going test optional. Colleges are also doing this now for a variety of reasons. JT Duck, Dean of Admissions at Tufts said, “while the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on SAT and ACT testing opportunities contributed to the urgency of this policy, this decision aligns with our ongoing efforts to critically examine our policies, and to promote maximum access to a Tufts education to high-achieving students of all backgrounds and identities from across the country and around the world.”

The coronavirus isn’t just leading to short-term change, it’s also creating permanent change for colleges. According to “Coronavirus Drives Colleges to Test Optional” by Inside Higher Ed, all public universities in Oregon will no longer require SAT scores from now on.  

With all that being said, SATs are not the only things schools care about; they also care about transcripts. Many students may now have a P or F appearing on their transcripts instead of the usual letter grades. At ORHS, there is a hybrid model that has been put in place. “High school students and their families will have the option to select the option of a letter grade or credit/no-credit for each of their 4th quarter classes. This decision may be made at the end of the school year for each individual class. The high school administration will be developing the process for implementing this choice model,” according to the ORHS Superintendent, Dr. Morse’s, newsletter from April 2020.  

 For juniors this may be worrisome because this means a change in transcript for an important year in high school. However, Tara Scholder, UNH Seacoast Admissions Counselor explains that students should not stress over this. 

“Colleges and universities are very much aware of the uniqueness and the stress, and that there will be pass/fails rather than grades on transcripts, and we’ll work with that. I don’t think it’s anything to be really worried about. We just have to do what we can to put this virus to sleep and then get back to normal,” said Scholder. She continued on to say, “we’re trying to be as flexible and understanding as possible because how you are learning has changed so much, and some students don’t do as well in a distance learning model, and that’s outside of your control.” 

While students may be stressed about their transcripts, many may not know where to submit them, especially if they can’t tour. Many juniors were planning to tour colleges this spring. Clearly, that can no longer happen due to universities shutting down. This leaves much of the pressure on this summer, as long as everything is cleared up by then, and early fall to find the school you’ll spend the next four years at. Although students may wait to tour some schools until they’re accepted and still have time to tour before commiting, most like to tour before applying.

“Juniors often really start coming to visit campus the spring of their junior year. I expect that we’ll probably have more summer visitors, and it’ll put a lot of pressure on the fall. Students may be meeting the college representatives from their short list of schools for the first time in the fall, when at that point you’ve usually had one opportunity to visit campus or to meet with a rep when they may have visited your school in the spring of your junior year,” shared Scholder. 

Aidan Kelley (‘21) was planning on going on tours this spring, as were many members of the class of 2021. Students are beginning to feel the pressure of this lost time. “During April break was when me and my family were going to go and do most of our longer tours. I was interested in going to some schools in North Carolina and Tennessee, but obviously that didn’t happen, so we’ll just have to do that in the summer now.”

Although there’s nothing to make up for not being able to tour schools, something that may relieve that pressure is virtual tours. Many students are doing virtual tours of schools that allow students to view the campus and facilities. While they are not the same as being there in person, they’re the best students have right now. A good resource that has virtual tours for many universities is SCOIR, a platform ORHS is now using that helps students find colleges to add to their list. SCOIR has a lot of information on all the basic things to consider for a school such as location, size, and SAT score range. 

Normally, when students tour a school they also have the opportunity to attend a more formal information session. These are still happening virtually, and students have had success with them. 

“I’ve been attending information sessions and having one-on-one talks with the deans and I take notes from that. A lot of the schools I’m interested in all look very similar, but through the information sessions I’m finding out one or two minute details that are different between them, but it’s definitely tough not being able to tour,” shared Aidan Kelley (‘21).

In the end, although juniors may have lost the chance to tour schools, and take the SATs this spring, everyone involved in college admissions is very much aware of all that has been lost. While the class of 2021 may have transcripts that look slightly different, many are working to make the college admissions process as normal as can be for them.