By: Vivian Wang
Standardized tests: canceled. GPAs: destroyed. Competitions and extracurriculars: postponed. As the seriousness of COVID-19 increased in mid-March of 2020, the anxiety of several rising high school seniors also spiked by more than two-fold as many realized that their dream college has become a far fetched, unpredictable dream.
The concept of standardized testing revolves around providing better insight into a student’s academic abilities, including the student’s overall comprehension of English and applications of high school mathematics. Since many schools have transitioned to remote learning in March this year, these schools were no longer able to provide their classrooms to students eager to take their SAT and ACT.
Many schools including the University of California schools and the California State University schools have gone test-optional, meaning that students who are unable to take their standardized test or who choose not to submit their test score would not be at a disadvantage in the college admissions process. Since a majority of colleges have become test-optional, colleges have informed applicants that a greater emphasis will be placed on GPA, extracurriculars, essays, letters of recommendation, and additional personal background.
Shweta Shah, a senior in the International Baccalaureate Program at Valencia High School expressed her thoughts on standardized tests, “It was August 15 at a crazy early time in the morning when I woke up to register for the ACT exam. My father and I used two different devices to wait in the queue for over an hour, just to attempt to secure a spot at a testing center. The furthest place I registered to take my ACT at was over 50 miles away. I feel like all my effort taking practice tests has now gone to waste”.
Similarly, grade point averages (GPAs) have become a hefty topic for many high school seniors, especially those who were hoping to raise their GPAs in their final semester of their junior year. While many schools provided an option for students to opt-in for a “pass or fail” option or a letter grade option, other schools have not provided as much leeway for students to choose whether they would like to select a “pass or fail” or letter grade option. Since students are now learning from home, students have now been relying on independent learning. Many students, especially students from first-generation and low-income backgrounds, are at a disadvantage during remote learning; with some students having to learn in a room shared with multiple individuals and having difficulties paying attention when surrounded by their family.
The straw that broke the camel’s back: extracurricular activities. Many ambitious high school seniors were looking forward to their exciting end of junior year and summer, in order to attend meaningful activities such as speaking at a TEDx event or competing in the national CyberPatriots competition in Maryland. Students who planned on conducting research at local universities no longer had a research position at universities that closed their labs. Contrarily, some students saw this opportunity as a “glass half full”; students took advantage of networking and cold emailing to search for online research opportunities with universities and all-expenses-covered online summer programs such as Girls Who Code and Kode With Klossy.
Due to each student’s COVID-19 remote learning situation varying, many colleges, including those found on the Common Application, have provided a section for students to write an essay about how COVID-19 has impacted them. In this optional essay section, students can share about how COVID-19 has impacted their families and their remote learning situation, whether it be having to work extra shifts to support their family or having to take care of younger siblings throughout the day. Through this optional essay, students were provided the opportunity for colleges to create a fuller picture of their backgrounds and personal circumstances.
The big question that all anxious high school students ask: how will college acceptance rates change this year? As students turn to admissions officers and current college students to seek answers, admissions officers and current college students are just as unsure on how admissions rates will change this year.
Some professionals suspect that admissions rates will be slightly higher this year in comparison to previous years because less international students will most likely apply to colleges in the United States due to COVID-19. Conversely, some individuals infer that college acceptance rates will decline drastically because many college students have deferred their enrollment, meaning that they have reserved their acceptance at the school but will not be officially enrolling in the school until 2021, meaning that a large portion of the class has already been allocated to students who are taking a gap year.
With this information in mind, being proactive is the best way to tackle college admissions this year. Considering factors that are within control, including writing essays and creating a story and focusing less on factors that are not within an individual’s control like acceptance rates and whether test centers for the SAT and ACT will open will make this college application process as enjoyable (and stress-free) as possible.