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2021 college applicants face uncertain future

By Maddie Gerber
Hometown Weekly Intern

August is typically the sunset of the summer, one final hurrah before the fall chill seeps in and life returns to normal, conjuring up images of relaxing days spent soaking up the sun and lounging poolside. However, for rising high school seniors, August is anything but relaxing. 

For the class of 2021, the closing of the summer marks the beginning of the dreaded college application process, which has become even more daunting since the pandemic has significantly changed the application landscape. With tours moving online and standardized testing sites shutting down across the country, the next four years look very uncertain for incoming applicants. 

“It’s just so hard to get a true feel for the school through a computer screen,” said Ella Gauthier, a rising senior at Needham High, who has been unable to visit any colleges as her in-person tours have all been canceled. Although Gauthier has been taking advantage of the online tours that many schools are offering, she says it’s not the same. “It’s hard to understand what the atmosphere and student body are like because they don’t show much online.” Rising NHS senior Julia Gallo faces a similar predicament to Gauthier, with many of her tours being canceled, as well. For Gallo, these cancellations have made her reevaluate the colleges she is applying to, saying that she is now leaning more towards “closer/in-state schools so I can visit them.” 

Another variable that the pandemic has taken a significant toll on is standardized testing, which is typically a hallmark of the application process. Test sites across the country have shut down and cancelled tests. Rising NHS senior Sarah Deely has been studying for her ACT and SAT tests since December, spending months preparing for the exams. However, due to the pandemic, she has been unable to take a single test, as her March, April, June, July, and August testing dates were all canceled. “It’s been really annoying,” Deely said, noting that she is now worried about how she will compare with applicants who do have test scores. 

Bennett Gauthier, another rising senior, has also had all of his tests canceled after spending over six months preparing for them. Although he is signed up for a test in September, he worries that that might be canceled as well, which has thrown a significant wrench in his college planning process. “I’m not ready to apply at all,” said Gauthier, “I want to take an ACT and tour colleges and if I can’t do that, then I have no idea what I’m going to do. At this point, I have no clue about which college I’m going to go to.” 

Fortunately, most schools, including all eight Ivy League institutions, have taken note of these cancellations and are not requiring standardized test scores for the upcoming school year. In fact, many schools have announced plans to keep their test-optional status for future years, and the University of California school system is planning to phase out SAT and ACT testing permanently, opting for a new, California-specific assessment. Nevertheless, despite these accommodations, many students who haven’t yet taken a test worry that they will struggle to compete with their peers who have. 

However, according to Heather Ayres, a former admissions officer and director at highly competitive schools such as Wellesley and Brown who now works as a college consultant, the pandemic could leave lasting positive impacts on the application process. “I think that there are many colleges that have a lot of catching up to do with their data,” said Ayres, noting that while standardized testing is a helpful tool, many schools use it as a crutch. Standardized testing has been heavily debated in recent years, as many critics challenge how well it measures a student’s intelligence. Now that the pandemic has forced many institutions to move away from their testing requirements, Ayres hopes that this might lead to some permanent change, forcing schools to “tune their processes to be less reliant on testing” and review their applicants more holistically.

So, while the pandemic is certainly making the admissions process more painful for incoming applicants, these growing pains will hopefully lead to a more well-rounded application process in the future. 

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