Although the start of senior year is supposed to be the beginning of what many consider to be the best year of high school, the first few months are often overshadowed by college applications. As if making decisions about the future wasn’t stressful enough, this year’s senior class has the uncertainty of COVID-19 looming over the process. Many students have dedicated the past 3 years to achieving good grades, playing sports, extracurriculars, and volunteering in hopes of getting into their dream college. However, COVID-19 threw a wrench in those plans, not only by disrupting junior and senior year but has thrown the entire college application into chaos and uncertainty. We collected over 200 responses to assess where and how current Green Hope seniors are managing with this process.
According to the survey, 84.5% of seniors have already started on their applications, with 58% of them having started over the summer.
Even under normal circumstances, seniors are usually left on their own to figure out where to start in the process over the summer since Student Services does not start senior conferences until mid-September. However, by that time, the first deadline for most Green Hope Students, UNC-Chapel Hill Early Action on October 15, is less than a month away, followed closely by other Early Decision/Action programs on November 1. As a result, there has been a lot of frustration centered around the school/student services’ end of the process, or rather lack of involvement. Due to virtual schooling, the class of 2021 is unable to meet with counselors in person, which leaves most students feeling alone and unsupported by the school. Most seniors have instead relied on older siblings/friends, parents, the internet, or private college counselors for guidance. Senior Amritha Alaguraj says that “I wish that they’d provide a sort of checklist of things that students need to get done for college apps. It took me a lot of time to research everything and figure out what I was supposed to do since I really had no clue where to start.” Not only has remote learning limited communication with counselors, but it has reduced the personal aspect of asking teachers for recommendations to a simple email.
In addition to the general disconnect from the school, seniors have also had to adjust to a new workload from online classes. Despite the additional time at home, balancing schoolwork and college applications is still a huge struggle for students. Ashlyn Dumaw, senior, said that “Because of the increase in the difficulty of online classes, it feels like we have much less time to complete our college essays. It’s much more difficult to think about and write these essays when we have so many other complications to deal with.”
However, some students see everything being moved online as a blessing, with more resources and information being posted, including virtual visits. College tours that were planned in the spring were the first to be affected by COVID-19 as campuses across the country shut down. Instead, colleges offered virtual tours and information sessions, which also means that students will have to decide what schools to apply to without ever visiting them in person. Virtual tours, however, cannot substitute the experience of walking around a campus while envisioning a possible future there. That gut “feeling” can sometimes be a deciding factor for students.
One of the most important changes brought on by COVID is colleges deciding to go test-optional, which can be both a pro or con depending on the student. Corinne Drabenstott, ‘21, said that “One positive thing about applying to college this year is the ability to apply test-optional. I didn’t feel great about my SAT score, but now I don’t have to submit it if I don’t want to, which is nice.” At the same time, other students viewed it as an extra stressor, saying “I am most stressed out about figuring out my SAT and ACT scores and whether or not to send them to schools.” Although the majority of colleges have gone test-optional, seniors who are still attempting to take another SAT or ACT test, have to deal with multiple test dates getting canceled and rescheduled.
COVID has also changed what colleges are looking for in students as applications will look very different this year. For example, the activities section on the Common App is heavily affected by the cancellations of planned activities and experiences, which affected opportunities to beef up resumes. Now, not only do students have to fit their entire personality on paper, but they also have no idea how the admissions process will work. As one senior, Nasir Braswell puts it, “It’s that feeling where you want colleges to know everything about you and you feel like if you put less on the application they won’t value you.”
As for the most stressful part of college apps, there was an overwhelming consensus on the difficulty of writing the personal statement essay as well as supplemental essays. One senior, Sid Ravi, says “The sheer amount of essays to write, frankly, it is a little bit daunting knowing that there are so many essays…it feels like swimming in an ocean with no end in sight.” Another senior in the survey said “I wish my English teacher had put more emphasis on helping out with the essay. We used the prompts for class but as its own assignment, not necessarily for the actual essay we will use. I kind of wish we had workshops even for all students to do this.” Other common concerns over writing essays include not knowing how to write them, sounding authentic, and finishing them in time for deadlines. The obstacles facing the class of 2021 may seem overwhelming, but they have proven that even amidst a pandemic and virtual learning environment, they are still persevering and making the best of the circumstances. If anything, this year’s class of seniors will be equipped to take on anything after enduring this gruesome college application cycle. Take it from one senior in the survey: “I won’t lie, this is very stressful. But let’s keep a positive attitude, shall we?”