Persevere in the process

Examining the ways in which COVID-19 has impacted the college application process for LM seniors.

Graphic by Emma Liu ’22/Staff

When COVID-19 first hit in the spring, one of the most significant concerns in regard to education was how it would affect the Class of 2020’s transition into college. In the midst of all this, many ignored the impact it would have on the Class of 2021. Unlike the previous class of seniors, the members of the Class of 2021 had not yet applied to college, and most were still in the early stages of researching and touring schools. Now, as the pandemic continues to spread and much of society remains shut down, the Class of 2021 is going through what may be the most stressful college application cycle to date.

As a result of the pandemic, students are lacking the resources available to previous classes to learn about colleges and universities. The application process is already complex enough and students have found themselves unable to access many of the resources typically offered, both by colleges and their own high school. One LM senior noted that, “It’s been more difficult to reach out to counselors and teachers due to the pandemic. Knowing the college process as well has become more difficult to understand.” Although some colleges, such as Tulane University, have recently resumed their in-person tours (albeit offered only in small, masked groups), the majority of colleges are currently only offering virtual tours. Approximately 91% of LM’s current seniors surveyed reported that they have not been able to tour as many colleges as they would like in-person.

That’s not to say students haven’t found other ways to research colleges. 78.9% of LM seniors report taking advantage of virtual tours, while 85.6% have been frequently visiting school websites to learn more. Another popular method of research is reaching out to current college students and admissions counselors. Unfortunately, while these are all helpful resources, colleges tend to blend together when your main source of information on them is the internet, as 76.7% of LM seniors reported that the pandemic has made it more difficult to narrow down their college search.

Many of this year’s seniors may also feel that the quality and content of their application has suffered due to the pandemic. When asked to elaborate on how the pandemic has hindered their college application process, several students mentioned missing out on extracurriculars, competitions, and programs that they had planned to participate in during the spring of their junior year and/or the entirety of their senior year. One student noted that it’s “hard to apply saying I would’ve done something but can’t,” while another stated that, “Everything has an asterisk, as in you never know if you’ll actually get what you sign up for with so much uncertainty.” While many sports are continuing with shortened seasons, so far they have been unable to compete, serving as an obstacle for students hoping to get recruited by colleges. Other activities, such as Players, have been canceled altogether.

Besides a lack of extracurriculars, students may also feel that their applications will suffer from a lack of SAT or ACT scores. 76.7% of LM seniors say they have not been able to take the SAT or ACT as many times as they would like. It’s also difficult to plan for the test when you are unaware of when a test date will be available. One student reported that as a result of limited resources and uncertainty around standardized testing availability, “I wasn’t able to get proper tutoring for the SAT. Now I can’t take the SAT because I’m unprepared.” Luckily for them, the SAT and ACT will not be as crucial to admissions as they were in previous years. Still, many students may be planning to apply to schools that still require test scores, and others may feel that a strong SAT or ACT score is necessary to bolster their application. 14.4% of LM seniors claim that the lack of availability of SAT/ACT test dates has prevented them from applying to certain colleges.

Regardless of the impact on admissions, many students are concerned about what their college experience will look like, and whether it will be worth the hefty price tag that comes with attending a four-year university. There is no guarantee that a vaccine will become available between now and 2021, and if nothing changes, the Class of 2021 may have to start college online, as many of this year’s college freshmen have done.

Educationdata.org reports that during the 2019-2020 academic year, the average yearly tuition for a four-year university was $30,500. While this number does vary significantly depending on the type of institution, it would likely be adjusted to compensate for the lack of room and board if students took classes online. Despite this, however, it remains a substantial amount of money to pay for an education spent completely at your own desk, especially considering the financial ramifications of the pandemic. A third of LM seniors said that if they knew that their freshman year was going to be taught online, they would change their plans. When asked how, many suggested deferring for a year or semester, while others had no solid plans, but knew that online classes would “change everything.”

This pandemic has drastically altered the college application process for the Class of 2021. It has made it more difficult to tour schools, take the SAT or ACT, and participate in extracurriculars. It has also potentially harmed their family’s ability to pay for college, and only time will tell how it will impact their freshman year. Despite this, LM’s seniors are making the best of the situation by taking advantage of any and all resources available to help research and eventually apply to colleges. Thankfully, many colleges have promised to be as understanding as possible of the unique struggles that the Class of 2021 is facing. The Class of 2021 has found themselves in a unique predicament, and hopefully colleges will recognize that and make the necessary accommodations.