Only two years ago, I was a senior in high school — but many changes have been made since then when it comes to the formatting of classes. I remember my last first day of school like it was yesterday, watching students in the hall embrace their friends after a summer apart and playing get-to-know-you ice breakers in every class. I already knew that my time with the people I’d spent the last few years with was coming to end, but I was able to make the most of my last year with them. The same cannot be said for last year’s graduating class, or this year’s seniors; they’re exploring new territory with every step of their education, and with that new territory comes even more uncertainty about what comes next. How are virtual classes — and everything that comes with them — going to affect college applications?
A shift in class structure has left students feeling uncertain
Schools nationwide shifted their classes to a remote system due to the pandemic, with some trying out hybrid structures coming into the new semester. It's a first for many high school students, and the adjustment has come with many challenges. For example, some students have struggled to find motivation to do their work, finding it difficult to get anything done outside of a school setting.
Noah Nicholas, a student at Liberty High School, engages in lectures through Microsoft Teams and Florida Virtual. He likes not being stuck in a classroom, however, learning just isn’t the same. “It’s easier to learn in person, because you can talk face-to-face with your classmates about the material you’re confused with, or you can meet with your teach for extra time to learn,” he says.
For Emily Gonzalez, a senior at Valley Vista High School, classes tend to go well from home when the WiFi isn’t acting up. But thanks to spotty WiFi signals and less accessible instruction, some students are left feeling like they have a disadvantage.
The never-before-seen pandemic also brings concerns for the seniors that are applying to colleges. Gigi, a senior at Incarnate Word Academy in Texas, says that she's mainly worried about her resume. “This year I was aiming to add more things to my resume, but due to recent events, I might not be able to.” Emily is concerned that certain scholarships won’t be available anymore because people believe that online is easier. “More colleges will notice that, and will give out less,” she speculates.
The pandemic has caused Stephen at Union County Early College in North Carolina to feel uncertain about where he’s planning on going to college due to the fact that colleges aren’t doing in person tours. “It feels almost like a blind date!” he says.
The admissions process isn’t the same across universities, but many have made adjustments in response to the current state of education
Applying to colleges is an extremely nerve-wracking process normally, so it can really only get worse from here. The stress of new teaching methods, worries about scholarships and more just make it easier to make simple mistakes, because you’re not entirely focused.
Luckily, adjustments have been made to the admissions process to better accommodate the impacts of the pandemic on applicants. For example, seeing as ACT and SAT sessions have been canceled, many colleges aren't requiring scores as a part of the application process.
The Harvard Gazette reports that 300 admissions deans came together to release a statement, and have several things that they're more likely to value right now. Richard Weissbourd, the facility director of Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Turning the Tide initiative, told The Harvard Gazette that he believes students should be emphasizing challenges they’re facing due to the current climate, such as helping their younger siblings or taking care of an ill relative. He also explained that the goal for applicants should not be doing “extraordinary service of some kind,” because not everyone is going to have the opportunity to go above and beyond right now.
Head of Admissions at Grand Canyon University, Chris Talal, was also able to shed some light on what colleges may be looking for because of the changes caused by the pandemic. Talal believes that academics, as they have always been, will be the biggest influence in the admissions process.
As for how colleges are taking into consideration the rapid shift in teaching and learning techniques, as well as how that may have affected students’ grades, Talal says that there’s no blanket answer. “That answer ultimately comes down to the particular institution,” he says. For example, while some high schools and community colleges used pass/fail grades when COVID hit in the spring, GCU did not.
But how do you stand out when everything you do is being cancelled?
With extra-curriculars canceled, another big application boost that many students rely on, seniors are bound to be uncertain about how they can stand out to colleges and make a good impression. There are plenty of opportunities to showcase who you are without the use of clubs and organizations on campus. “Students can apply the pandemic to their college applications by showing their adaptability and perseverance,” Talal says, which are "two admirable and attractive traits when applying to the university."
He compares the application process to practicing for a sports game. “The coach isn’t always going to be there to hold your hand, same thing with a teacher,” he says. “More often times than not, the worthwhile things in life are not going to be given by a handout. They demand hard work, dedication and self-discipline."
He goes on to suggest applicants take charge of their path. "Students can still take the initiative about seeking community service events,” he says. “There are multiple ways students can still be engaged and involved even outside of participating through school organized events.” Some examples of that are food drive participation, mask handouts, back to school drives and clothing drives. You can also serve your community remotely by organizing charity drives, volunteering for political campaigns, creating resources for students in need and more.
No matter what your classes look like as they’ve transitioned online, you can still make the most of your senior year. I wish you all a wonderful senior year that is as stress-free as possible. Please stay happy, healthy and remember to stay six-feet apart!