May 21, 2024
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COVID-19’s Impact on the College Admissions Process

Like so many other facets of life in 2020, the college admissions process is going to be very different this year. Since the pandemic shut down the spring semester, many high school students missed the opportunity to take their SATs or ACTs at the usual time, leaving thousands of students scrambling for testing dates in the fall. The scarcity of testing opportunities has led universities to change their approach and be more flexible regarding standardized tests, since so many students can’t present test scores as part of their application.

Keren Weinberger, TABC’s director of college guidance, described the reasoning: “The colleges changing their testing policy was a reactionary decision made upon the realization that it was almost impossible for students to test this past spring, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The tremendous demand for seats for fall exams created a problem for Sabbath observers, since the limited number of Sundays meant not all schools could accommodate everyone who wished to test on Sunday. Many schools, like MTA, TABC and Bruriah, have since become unlisted testing sites and will administer the tests to their students during the school day. MTA’s director of college guidance, Murray Sragow, said, “Fortunately for YUHSB students, our school for years has participated in the school day SAT program and ACT district testing, so our seniors will be taking the SAT and ACT in school in September and October.”

Universities’ position on testing is “a dynamic situation,” noted Sragow. Just last week, he continued, “A judge ordered the University of California to be test blind this year, in order to level the playing field for those unable to test. This may spread to other universities.” Dana Ponsky, director of college guidance at The Idea School, explained the different approaches schools have chosen:

Test optional: Students can choose whether or not to submit test scores.

Test flexible: Students must submit some form of standardized test, such as AP, SAT subject tests, or graded test samples, if not the actual SAT or ACT.

Test blind: These schools no longer consider testing at all.

Ponsky shared that 1500 colleges are currently “test optional,” up from 1000 four months ago. This number includes all the Ivy League schools and many state universities. Bruriah High Schools’s Sherry Kalgsbrun noted that the CUNY university system has opted to be test blind.

SAR’s director of college guidance, Michael Courtney, said that despite this, “Many seniors are still taking the SATs and ACTs. A number of students prepared for several months during junior year and they want ‘closure’ for their hard work. Others feel that in such a competitive admission landscape, any advantage that they can land, such as high test scores, can only buttress their applications.” Sragow concurred, “We are advising our students to test if they can, and report their scores if they are high.”

With testing taking a backseat, colleges will be evaluating students holistically for both admissions and merit opportunities. “Colleges are going to pay even closer attention to factors that include the transcript (grades and tracking), extracurricular activities, essays and recommendation letters,” shared Courtney. Across the board, college guidance counselors are meeting with students one on one to ensure they are presenting the strongest application possible and filling in the holes where test scores should have been. “At SAR, we are counseling students with lists that include reach schools, target schools and foundation schools even if an applicant doesn’t have testing to present. There is no way to accurately predict how a target school will react to a lack of testing but a reach will still be a reach and a foundation school will still be a foundation school,” said Courtney. Weinberger said her goal is to make students’ applications “compelling and competitive,” noting that, “Demonstrated interest will also be tracked; for example, has the student taken a virtual tour of the school?” Even if students haven’t gotten the opportunity to take the exam, noted Ponsky “but they have everything else in place, it shouldn’t preclude them from applying. But they should realize they are up against students who are submitting scores.”

Since campus visits are very difficult at this time, many schools are offering virtual tours and information sessions. Students can theoretically still visit campuses independently and walk around the grounds to see the area, but entry into buildings—and travel in general—is tricky right now. Sragow shared that MTA is “also connecting [students] with alumni at colleges of interest to help them learn about these schools.”

Ponsky hopes that all these changes prompt people to look at the college admissions world in a different way. “This time should be for families to recognize that students are more than just these quantifiable numbers, more than just their test scores.” She hopes colleges will look more at other aspects of an applicant’s life such as volunteering and relationships with teachers, which paint a more complete picture of the whole student.

By Michal Rosenberg

 

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