COVID Complicates College Applications

     “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This phrase begins A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and 161 years later, it describes how COVID-19 affects college applications in 2020. The college application process is an exhaustive combination of paperwork, standardized test scores and personal essays, all predicated on presenting a complete picture of the candidate. However, this year, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented seniors with some new dilemmas and opportunities.

     One of the key difficulties this year has been the upheaval in the standardized test schedule. But a positive outcome of this for most students is that most colleges are going test optional this year. Counselors caution, however, that despite this general test optional stance, students should be aware that some schools may still require test scores for certain scholarship consideration or admittance into specialized programs.

     With so many schools going test optional, greater importance is placed on students’ essays. To assist with the essay process, senior English teachers have continued to provide essay practice through in-class assignments and are spending extensive time to review and critique the seniors’ application essays. Savanna Basulto ‘21 explained, “My English teacher has helped a ton with my essay. So far have done six different drafts/opportunities to write our essays. Mrs. Trifilio has given clear and helpful comments on every since one of them, even giving suggestions. She has also encouraged us to peer review, especially with others who have a different writing style.”

     Teachers and counselors are fundamental to all parts of the application process, and that is no less true this year. But with physically distant e-learning and hybrid scheduling, it has been more challenging for students to maintain contact. Fenwick has tried to keep pace with these rapidly changing circumstances by providing students with opportunities for remote support. They have ensured that students have access to a trove of online resources and are arranging remote meetings with students as needed. Teachers as well are working hard to keep up with demands for letters of recommendation and essay reviews, while still balancing the demands of e-learning.

     One of the most difficult aspects of the application process this year is that most students have not been able to visit their prospective colleges. Universities are beefing up their virtual tours and information offerings, and Fenwick has hosted multiple virtual college information sessions with college admissions officers in lieu of the usual in-person sessions. The threat and uncertainty of COVID itself is also impacting where students are choosing to attend college. Colleges have seen an avalanche of COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.

     As seniors wrap the application process in this “best and worst” of times, the Fenwick counseling staff encourages students to utilize all the on-line resources at their disposal, to reach out immediately when they need help, to proofread those essays and finally, to relax.