Taking on College During a Pandemic

The college application process can be extremely stressful. Between editing essays, meeting prompt deadlines, and deciding which school is the right fit, it is a challenging time in seniors’ lives. This year, 2021 seniors are the first class to start the difficult process during the Covid-19 pandemic. Along with many other consequences of the pandemic, Covid makes the task of trying to figure out where to spend the next four years more confusing than ever for high school seniors. 

Standardized testing is one aspect of the application process that has changed this year due to Covid-19. The ACT or SAT have always been required for most colleges in the past, and getting test scores high enough to get into their dream university can be hard for high schoolers. However, Covid-19 changed colleges’ policies regarding standardized tests because many high schoolers were having trouble scheduling test dates.

Senior Chaim Duffe-Holmes says that in his experience, he took the ACT in February of 2020 as a practice run, hoping to use that score as a benchmark to see what he needs to do to improve. But, plans changed in March when Covid-19 caused a world-wide quarantine period. All ACT dates in the spring were canceled, and summer dates were scarce. Duffe-Holmes did not end up retaking the ACT until October, months after his original plan, and it was too late to remember all the strategies he had been studying. He said,  “I was prepared to take the ACT and could have gotten a 29, but covid hit and plans changed.”

Senior Zoey Tonis had a similar experience with the ACT. Tonis took the test before Covid caused cancellations and she could not sign up for a second test date until months later. When she took the test again, school had not started back in person yet, so she was not used to the normal school setting. She felt that since spending hours in a classroom was not something she had done for months, the test felt harder than ever.

Luckily, universities have acknowledged the struggle students are going through to get standardized tests, so numerous universities became test-optional this year. Even Ivy League universities, like Yale and Dartmouth, have enacted test-optional applications for the college graduation class of 2025. Not making standardized tests required was a relief to seniors. Tonis said that colleges have “taken off the stress of the ACT.”

Another significant impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is that traveling is not recommended, making it hard for seniors to visit potential colleges. Duffle-Holmes says that the order of his college application process has been flipped due to the inconvenience; he would have visited schools as a way to narrow down options, apply, then commit to a school. Instead, he has to apply to colleges and then visit the colleges, making it so he will not know the school’s atmosphere until after he has to finalize his college application list.

Tranette Hill, another senior at Brentwood High School, and Zoey Tonis both agree with Duffe-Holmes: deciding where to go is a lot harder without being able to visit. Hill is concerned about how the campus life will be at Missouri Western, where she is considering attending, and Tonis says that deciding on a college would be easier if she could visit the schools where she was accepted. Universities have acknowledged inconveniences that arose from the lack of campus tours, so schools have been offering virtual tours and information sessions where students can view pictures of the campus, talk to current students, and meet with school officials. 

Not only is the college application process different due to Covid, but the college experience will be completely different, too. Some universities have switched to virtual classes as a precautionary measure, but virtual learning also brings up problems. Tonis says that if the school she attends is doing online courses, she considers staying at home for her freshman year. Tonis said, “If you are not getting the college experience, then it is not worth paying all the money, but it is hard not to want to go somewhere different.” Starting college should be thrilling, but if it only consists of sitting in your room on zoom calls all day, it prompts the question if paying for room and board for an unexciting college experience is worth leaving home. 

As colleges attract students from many different areas, it is also hard to know how everyone at the college handles Covid-19. When talking about how her future classmates will handle covid, Hill said, “You don’t know what is going through their mind about covid and if they wear a mask, or if they wear it correctly.” Moving to a new place and meeting a new group of people can be scary enough on its own, but adding the mystery of how people in the new environment will respond to the global pandemic makes it even more nerve-wracking. 

Despite the extra stress covid has caused, attending college will still be a significant step in these students’ lives. Seniors are about to embark on a new chapter, and even if it was not what they had initially envisioned for their college experience, it will be an excellent opportunity to learn. Duffe-Holmes said, “I am excited to be dropped into a whole new world on my own, surrounded by like-minded individuals.” Throughout the chaos Covid-19 has brought in the past year, it is important to keep finding the bright sides in situations.