Navigating College Applications During COVID-19: A Guide for Highschool Seniors

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Written by Rachael Willis

Ever since I started high school, I knew that my senior year would be frantic due to the craziness of college applications. However, if someone told me three years ago that I would be navigating this process in the midst of a global pandemic, I definitely would have called them crazy. Even though this is not the senior year that any of us were envisioning, there are many different ways that the class of 2021 can make the most of these unique circumstances.

Tip #1: Take advantage of virtual college information events

Since large, in-person gatherings are off the table right now. Many universities have rolled out virtual tours and information events. For instance, Arizona State University held several “More to Explore” Zoom calls for prospective students this summer. As I am currently exploring different majors and trying to figure out what my calling is, I attended ASU’s Zoom conference that discussed how to best choose a college major. The call was incredibly helpful. I learned several useful tips for choosing a major. In addition, if you are interested in attending an out-of-state school, there are some universities that are holding virtual campus tours.

Tip #2: Explore your interests by taking online classes

Quarantine has brought about extreme boredom in virtually everybody, so why not use all of this free time to do something productive? One way that you can make the most of your time at home this college application season is by taking free courses online. The website Coursera offers thousands of free classes taught by university professors. You can either complete the entire course or just skim through the assigned readings and lectures to see if any of the topics spark your interest. Although the classes offered on Coursera do not grant any college credit, they can still be beneficial in that they offer introductions to different college majors.

Tip #3: Create a calendar with all applicable deadlines

From personal experience, it can be hard to keep track of several different deadlines. In order to stay on top of your college applications, make sure to create some sort of calendar with all of your application, scholarship, and financial aid deadlines. College admissions advisors often say that it is best to fill out applications as soon as possible. Using a calendar can help you visualize when your next due dates are and plan out the application process.The calendar can also be used to plan out different checkpoints along the way, such as completing essays, requesting letters of recommendation, and filling out a specific section of the Common App. You should give yourself plenty of time to complete each application before the due date in order to minimize stress. Also, if the application requires any letters of recommendation, be sure to notify any teachers at least two weeks before the application is due. Using a calendar can be extremely beneficial when trying to keep track of many different applications.

Tip #4: Don’t stress about test scores

Back in March, I had planned to take the SAT in May of 2020. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, test-taking opportunities have largely shrunk. I was luckily able to take the SAT in October after a couple of unsuccessful registrations. However, this may not bet he case for many students. Due to increased demand, it has become difficult to register for exams such as the SAT or ACT. Nevertheless, a vast majority of American universities have adopted either test blind or test optional policies for 2021-2022 admissions. This means that prospective first year students do not need to submit standardized test scores with their applications. Because of this, there is no need to stress over your SAT or ACT scores, or lack thereof. In past years, high school guidance counselors have touted standardized test scores as one of the most important factors considered by college admissions officers. However, due to the current pandemic, colleges have shifted their focus away from standardized test scores. Even though the class of 2021’s senior year is rather unconventional, that doesn’t mean that the graduating class will miss out on important steps along the college application journey. High school seniors can make the most of their college applications while staying COVID-free by immersing themselves in different digital opportunities.