For the past decade or so, high school Juniors in their spring semester could turn to the classes before them for guidance in applying to colleges. The process and tips for success had remained quite stagnant; prepare for standardized tests and AP’s, work hard to improve your GPA this semester as one final hurrah, and look to distinguish yourself with school leadership and community involvement. However, for the class of 2021, the global pandemic has dealt them a completely new hand in the poker game of admissions.
COVID-19 took the world by surprise this spring and the college admissions process with it. The College Board had to cancel their normal administrations of the SAT and SAT II’s up until August and move the AP’s to a completely new format online. Colleges and universities, struggling with their own uncertainties surrounding distance learning and their plans for the fall, have adapted their admissions program to the new extenuating circumstances afflicting students around the globe. Several institutions have reverted to a test-optional format for the coming year. Some have even pledged to remain test-optional for many admissions-cycles to come, such as Tufts University who will remain with that plan for at least a three-year period.
Along with these changes to the admissions process, many students have had to cope with the loss of their spring semester transcript as more high schools across the country transform into a pass-fail grading system while distance learning remains in place. As I witness the sorrows of twelfth-grader nationwide grieving the loss of their proms and graduation, I have started to wonder how this sudden and drastic change to college admissions will afflict my Senior year.
Traditionally, the spring semester would allow Juniors to demonstrate their improvement in their high school career. But now without that opportunity, much of that academic pressure has shifted to the fall, right in the middle of application deadlines and new testing dates. It seems that COVID-19 has done the impossible; it has made the already-stressful college process even more nerve-racking than before.
As I listen to the pleas from my classmates to alleviate this pressure by any means possible, I am reminded of our common situation. Juniors in each state have to grapple with this altered reality and college acceptance has always been in competition with our peers. The new uncertainty arising from this unprecedented situation sure is scary, but in essence, it is still the same race to top.
Sadly, the pandemic will certainly widen the gap of opportunity between those who are in more privileged situations and those who are not even further. The economic turmoil that has ravaged the country has decimated college funds and forever destroyed expected opportunities. Hopefully, in the rising age of need-blind admission and increasing college campus diversity, admissions boards will keep these consequences to a minimum.