The College Application Process In a Pandemic
Alexis Joy Viloria | Maui High School
As high school seniors all across the country are still settling into virtual learning, there is another force they must overcome: college applications. In this new normal, seniors must battle the pressures of their futures as they work towards their career goals. The college application process consisting of the summarization of years of academic work, standardized testing and hours upon hours of essay writing and proofreading, though seemingly independent of the effects of COVID-19’s visit to the world, has been greatly affected by the pandemic.
From the beginning of quarantine, students across the nation and even the world have gone through a whirlpool of changes, good and bad. From exploring new hobbies to contemplating the state of their mental health, the pandemic has affected students so diversely in a way that has never been reflected in the history of college admissions. In response to this, institutions across the country have opted to take these changes into account. One change, perhaps one of the most surprising especially for more selective elite colleges, was the decision to go test-optional, leaving students their own choice to submit their ACT or SAT scores.
Even left to their own devices to choose whether to submit their test scores, many students still feel the pressure to test to their highest potential to get into their schools of choice. Across the United States, including here on Maui, with proper safety precautions, students were able to test at certain SAT testing centers. Was this the right decision to make on behalf of the company behind the test?
Neck deep into their college applications, two high school seniors explore the implications of entering the world of college admissions during this pandemic.
A senior at Maui High School, Chensen Cabalse shares his take on pandemic college applications. When it comes to test scores, Chensen thinks that colleges shouldn’t be considering them at all. “At this point in time, I do wish colleges would completely disregard standardized test scores. Every person is unique and everyone has a different story to tell. A set of numbers should not define anyone or their success,” says Chensen. In his opinion, he cites the financial hardships brought on by the pandemic and the test fees that come with taking standardized tests, saying “I think having testing available this school year was not a good idea. Parents of many students lost their jobs and testing fees presented financial barriers for students and their parents.”
On the mainland, many students have found themselves having to drive interstate to get to a testing center. Chensen says this is yet another reason why testing shouldn’t have been administered at this point. “There is also no point in having testing centers open across the nation,” said Chensen, “if every student is not guaranteed the same testing opportunities.”
Though now not as keen on testing during the pandemic, Chensen has found himself in a position where he wanted to take one to better improve his chances of admission into a college of his choice. “I have not taken any standardized tests so far during the pandemic. I initially had planned to retake the SAT back in August but I ended changing my test date to the October date.” After rescheduling to October, he came to a realization his health may determine his ability to even attend college at all. “Cases began to rise again at the start of the school year and I feared having to risk my health just to take the SAT. As the October test date was approaching, I decided last minute to just have my SAT registration fee refunded. I did not want to waste any more of my time studying/taking a test that I would end up sending to test-optional universities.”
Aside from testing, Chensen found difficulties in other areas of the college application process. Aiming to attend a University of California school, he finds adversity in getting the help he needs when filling out applications. “The pandemic has stripped away my primary sources of help and guidance throughout my college application process. I can still communicate with my counselors and teachers through email but it is not the same. It would be much easier to walk into my school’s college and career center to receive help or have any of my questions answered on the spot.” Missing the convenience of in-person resources, Chensen finds settling for virtual assistance is not what he had hoped for when applying for college.
To the rest of his fellow seniors, Chensen leaves his final remarks. “I would like to wish the class of 2021 the best of luck with their applications! We are all in this together!”
Also a senior at Maui High School, Jadynne Zane shows her side of the college application process amidst this difficult situation. A top student dedicated to her future, Jadynne finds much importance in the college application process. Up until this point, many students like Jadynne have placed value on higher test scores in order to greater increase their chances of getting into elite institutions. With many schools going test-optional, Jadynne was left in a dilemma. “When it came to standardized testing this year, I had very conflicting views about what I should have done. Since standardized testing is optional this year, this brings up the question of is it vital,” Jadynne says.
Like Chensen, Jadynne also sees financial hardships playing a role in the accessibility of standardized testing. “I do not think it is an excellent decision to have testing available during times like this, primarily due to the financial aspect of many. Due to the pandemic, many individuals have lost their jobs and are financially on edge. Many are unable to afford the option of testing,” Jadynne says.
Jadynne has used the colleges’ decisions to her advantage, opting to focus on other components of her application. “Instead of spending my time studying for the SAT or ACT perfecting my score, I now have the option to devote my time to strengthen my essays and extracurriculars further. I decided to divert my focus on my essays and extracurriculars; however, I feel that my application is missing something.” A huge factor in college decisions in times past, the absence of test scores is sure to leave a gap.
Elaborating further, Jadynne says test-optional policies have furthered her writing skills even in this time of uncertainty. “The pandemic has added a lot more uncertainty and stress amidst the college admissions process. I have heavily worked on my essays and have developed more as a writer. Since we are test-optional, there may be a bigger group of students applying to most schools and because of this, one’s essays need to hold more creativity.”
Today, many colleges have opted for a holistic approach to college admissions. Rather than setting rigid standards for each component of an application, the application as a whole is considered. Now that many colleges are test-optional, Jadynne is unsure how holistic admissions will be administered with the big change, stating “Because colleges are implementing this new system, we do not know how our decisions will carry out. How truthful are their statements regarding the holistic view of an applicant. Maybe having a score puts you at a higher advantage. Perhaps it does not.”
Ultimately, test-optional policies have helped to focus on the true definition of applicants. Jadynne believes test-blind, considering the applications without test scores at all, would be greatly beneficial as demonstrated in her own journey. “I wish colleges switched from test-optional to test-blind. Even before the pandemic, I believed that admissions based on an exam that you take once in the morning of a particular day truly does not define the individual. There comes a lot of uncertainty and doubt amongst students regarding the college admissions process and the newly implemented test-optional adds more tension.”
In this constantly evolving situation, all college applicants are finding themselves contemplating the cruciality of their test scores. As the dependence on numbers used to define students continues to lessen, applicants and admissions offices alike are learning the true value of a student. With the changes adopted during this pandemic, will the future of college admissions forever be changed? We can only hope future applicants will be able to better display themselves as a student increasingly more through personal expression rather than a numerical representation of them on a given day. Taking into account the true value of applicants will help to better build the foundation of America’s future starting from their intellectual beginnings.
Google® Is Not Everything is a monthly column authored by high school students. The title of the column emphasizes that education is more than just googling a topic. Google® is a registered trademark. This month’s guest columnist is Alexis Joy Viloria, a Senior at Maui High School. She is the founder and President of Maui High’s SaberScribes journalism club, and Vice President of the Silversword Chapter of the National Honor Society. Alexis is a part of Maui High’s air riflery team and is also a committed member of HOSA-Future Health Professionals as the Secondary Representative of the Hawai‘i HOSA State Council and a HOSA state gold medalist and international finalist. Alexis hopes to one day become a Pediatric Physician. She is the daughter of Alex and Juvy Viloria.