Into the Unknown: Applying to College Amidst a Pandemic

Seniors Caroline Flanagan(right) and Grace Prucher(left), like many, are embarking on their college journey this fall. With the pandemic altering the traditional application experience, they must modify their application processes.

Tara Kester, Staff

As seniors nationwide embark on their college journey this fall, the pandemic alters many traditional college research and selection processes.

Senior year brings a lot of stress: getting good grades, saying goodbye to friends, and for many deciding on where they want to pursue their academic interests and hopefully gain the degree necessary for their chosen career. 

According to the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, “65 percent of all jobs in the economy will require postsecondary education and training beyond high school,” making college a must for many high school students. 

But a worldwide pandemic has changed the traditional process of college selection. Campus tours are limited to a 10×12 screen, interviews are done through video conferencing, and standardized testing requirements have been removed. 

“I wish I had the opportunity to go and get a feel for a college through a guided tour. I think that would be a lot more influential because I could see the inside of buildings and get a feel for what they have to offer academically,” Grace Prucher said, a senior at Hopkinton High School. 

But with the negatives of the pandemic, at Hopkinton High School, a hybrid learning model has given seniors more time to prepare and apply to colleges. 

“Hybrid learning has given me more time to work on my applications,” said senior Caroline Flanagan.

Unlike Hopkinton High School, many schools participate in remote learning models – leaving hundreds of schools closed. As high schools close due to the pandemic, so do testing centers for the SAT and ACT.  

“‘Fully 85% of the U.S. News “Top 100” national liberal arts colleges now have ACT/SAT-optional policies in place,” according to a FairTest Data Table,'” FairTest said. This includes prestigious colleges such as Harvard University, which released a statement, “We understand that the COVID-19 pandemic has created insurmountable challenges in scheduling tests for all students,” regarding the test policy for the class of 2025.

But the omission of standardized testing seems to have both positives and negatives.

“The colleges are putting less emphasis on grades, which I think is important because someone can be well rounded and not have the best grades. I think it’s important to see what they have to offer outside of an academic setting,” Prucher said.

Standardized tests have been a widely debated topic for the last few years because ‘standardized tests are[were] used as an easy “weed-out” method,” according to an article released by Faisal Amin, a director of High Education Practice. 

Senior Caroline Flanagan said that “putting a lot of weight on one test might be too much.”

But with standardized testing optional at many schools, the admission process doesn’t seem more lenient. Additional supplemental essays are sometimes required for students who don’t submit tests, and some are worried that those that had the opportunity to test and did so well maybe at an advantage. 

“The few people that have good test scores could be put on a pedestal above everyone else,” Prucher said.

For some, recruiting has also altered drastically. With the entire spring season of junior year canceled, many seniors were worried that their chance to get recruited was gone. 

With the NCAA enforcing a recruiting blackout period, many athletes were removed from their prime recruiting season. 

“It has both helped me and hurt me,” Prucher said, a member of the varsity track team at Hopkinton High School. 

“I got fewer marks because we didn’t have a spring season, but coaches are more empathetic and lenient towards athletes, which I think could help me.” 

The pandemic has unquestionably altered the college application process for seniors at Hopkinton High School. Everything from testing to athletics has changed how students view and decide where they want to spend their next four years. But the question remains: since colleges opt for a more holistic approach, less determinant on letter grades and test scores, is the admissions process changed forever?