In Depth

Vincent Zakian, In-Depth Co-Editor

For seniors in high school, especially around this time of year, there is one main priority: college applications. These have been stressful enough in the past, but now, in the midst of a pandemic, we are witnesses to new challenges and new standards in the college acceptance game. 

High school seniors are, by and large, the most impacted by all of the changes to the college admissions process due to the COVID-19 pandemic, at least at Columbia High School (CHS). Due to Covid-19 restrictions, students were unable to visit many colleges in-person, and often had standardized test (SAT, ACT) dates cancelled. 

While these are frustrating problems, it really boils down to whether or not it has become harder or easier to get into your school of choice. Charlie Stamm, ‘21, said, “I would say that it’s probably harder to get into certain schools I want to get into. Since many schools have gone test optional, many people with not-so-stellar scores wouldn’t have to submit them, especially if they were very strong in every other area. This means that many more people will be applying to selective schools, thus making them harder to get into.” A Forbes article discussing college applications in 2020 reflected this sentiment. Admissions deans at some of the top universities in the country were actually suggesting that if a student hadn’t taken an admissions test, they shouldn’t bother taking one at all, due to the fact that so many schools have waived these requirements. According to Georgetown University, over half (1,240 out of 2,330) of the schools in the United States that offer a bachelor’s degree have gone test optional. 

Art by: F. Zaccarelli

It is worth noting that going test optional is believed to pose some benefits. Going test optional can relieve stress for those who did not take an admissions test, and many people believe that standardized tests do not truly measure intelligence, even though they are said to. However, as Stamm pointed out earlier, a more competitive and selective environment is being created by schools temporarily going test optional, and it still remains that something students have spent hours preparing for and stressing over may not matter for numerous academic institutions this year.

Some parts of the pandemic college application process are running smoother than expected. Stamm continued, “No problems [in the applications themselves] have really come up so far, I think everyone has done a good job of making the process relatively easy for us when applying to college.” Seeing as almost every college operates their applications through websites like the Common App and Coalition for College, the relative ease of completing the actual application comes as little surprise. CHS Students are used to carrying out tasks online, as their school year so far has been entirely virtual. Brian Clyburn, a Guidance Counselor at CHS, also saw the easier sides of the school’s current situation, saying, “Scheduling senior meetings where parents can attend has been a little bit easier with some parents working from home and others being able to attend from work because of it being held remotely.” 

The main aids to upperclassmen throughout their respective college searches are guidance counselors. They get to see every kind of student, and have a greater understanding of what colleges want to see in a student as well as what their students want to see from those colleges. The pandemic has brought in a whole new set of challenges for counselors as well. Clyburn affirmed this, saying, “The biggest challenge that I believe we are facing is trying to help students to deal with the stress and anxiety around the college application process when you factor our present reality due to the pandemic.” Student mental health has been generally low throughout the pandemic, and combined with the stress of college apps, the mental balance of students has become even more of a priority for counselors. 

Clyburn continued, “There seems to be a perception of uncertainty about how the pandemic will impact admissions decisions because of things beyond the student’s control, such as availability of SAT/ACT testing, the economy’s impact on their family’s ability to afford college, and whether or not campuses will be safe enough to offer the type of in person experience that students are hoping for.” The pandemic has brought on new factors for students to consider in their decisions as to where to apply. Few colleges have caved in and lowered tuition in an uncertain economic climate. Even supposed elite schools, such as Harvard University, have failed to drastically lower costs even after dramatic changes to the in-person experience. As to how students are dealing with this, Clyburn noted, “I will say that in my own small sample size of students, it seems that more have been willing to at least consider applying to in-state schools and county colleges than in years past. I have also had conversations with students who don’t want their families to have to pay the same tuition for an on-campus experience that they might have to experience at home.” 

High School students spend an overwhelming amount of time worrying about where they will go to college. It matters to some more than others, but college appears to be a major academic concern for the majority of students due to its impact on their future. The amount of stress that the whole process brings combined with the natural stress of a pandemic haven’t made the past few months easy for seniors at CHS. Luckily, for most seniors at least, the end is in sight for college applications, and maybe even for the pandemic. 

Design by: Matt McBride