Jill Haley: The crazy year in college admissions
As I write this column, many college freshmen are home, spending their first semester distance learning. They have missed out on dorm life, new friends, meeting with professors and attending sports and other events. Still, they are hopeful that college life will return to some normalcy as the vaccine lessens the spread of the virus.
Current high school seniors are finalizing their applications to attend college in Fall 2021 and some, who applied early, will receive notices of admissions this month. And in a recent announcement, both the University of California and the California State University have extended their admissions deadlines to meet student’s needs in this chaotic time.
Colleges have largely gone test optional due to the SAT/ACT college admissions tests being canceled. While we haven’t gotten data yet on how many students will apply without submitting test scores, the University of Georgia did release its early application stats which indicate nearly 30% did not. It will be interesting to see after COVID, how many colleges remain test optional. The nine University of California campuses have already announced they will no longer require the SAT or ACT to be admitted.
Many students benefited from being put on the waitlist last year. As less students decided to attend, admissions officers went deep into their lists to fill seats. I would not be surprised if the same thing happens this year. There is also a possibility that some students will never return to in-person classes, as they become accustomed to remote learning.
Students have become creative in how they showcase their extra-curricular activities on a college application. With activities and sports largely canceled, students are still finding ways to contribute and stay active in their communities. I have students who are helping distribute PPE equipment and another who is shopping and delivering groceries for his elderly neighbors. Another is tutoring elementary students online and helping parents sort out technology issues associated with virtual learning. Colleges are interested in all activities, not just those tied to school.
The University of California and the Common Application (used by mostly private colleges) have both added a COVID-19 optional essay to allow students to explain how this epidemic has contributed to academic, social and financial hardships.
Last spring, many high schools adopted the policy of awarding pass/fail grades, leaving students concerned how this might affect college chances. Given the unusual circumstances, colleges will accept pass/fail grades, and will not calculate them into a student’s overall grade point average. Colleges will, however, look more closely at the fall semester grades and sophomore grades.
One positive outcome of campuses being closed to visitors is the number of virtual opportunities available to students. Colleges have invested resources in how to reach out to students through Zoom interviews and virtual college information sessions. This has eliminated some of the barriers for low-income students who did not have the necessary means to travel and visit or interview at colleges.
Yes, it’s been a crazy year. Let’s hope for a more normal year for college students next year. They deserve it.
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