Upcoming changes and continuities in college admissions process

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As remote learning continues, rising seniors and juniors are beginning to consider how COVID-19 will affect college admissions. Multiple colleges across the nation have temporarily dropped SAT and ACT requirements, causing many to wonder how applications will be weighed amongst others. 

While some universities, such as the University of California system, stepped away from standardized tests entirely, Guidance Counselor Jeremy Wang cautions, “To those who are interested in applying to the top Ivy League schools, I would advise you to continue studying…I doubt those schools will become test-optional at this moment.” As of now, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University, Dartmouth College, and Cornell University have gone test optional for the 2020-2021 admissions period.

“Qualitative” factors, such as extracurriculars, may become more important in response to the changes, as they showcase a student’s individuality. “Colleges genuinely want to know you as a person outside of school, and talking about your extracurriculars and your dedication to them is [the] perfect way,” said senior Cathy Choo, who plans to attend Yale University NUS. “I would prioritize doing a few extracurriculars that you really like because… they’re things that you genuinely enjoy….The outcome from those endeavors will be more fruitful and more fulfilling,” added senior Nikki Wong, who has committed to Northeastern University. 

Senior Elizabeth Duchan, who will attend Brown University, stressed staying true to oneself. “So many colleges toss around the word ‘holistic’ but I honestly think it’s true…investing your time in a few things that are significant to you—passion projects, areas where you can show leadership, job experiences—is much more worthwhile than crowding your application with tons of extracurriculars….the best thing you can do is represent yourself in a way that speaks to your uniqueness and value as both a student and an individual.”

As a result, many juniors are concerned over the lack of extracurriculars and summer internship opportunities. “I was originally planning to apply to a studio art program at a college, but it was canceled. Volunteering options have also been severely restricted, so I feel underprepared. For now, I’m going to work on my art individually at home and express my creativity through chalk pastel: this is something I really enjoy, but I know will enhance my portfolio in the long run,” junior Joyce Zheng said. 

Mr. Wang suggested, “Get creative… organize gatherings on calls, spread kindness to elderly homes. Do what you can since you have so much time on your hands.”

Besides staying engaged with the community, Mr. Wang also emphasizes that it is important for students to stay in touch with their teachers. “You want to continue to demonstrate your academic curiosity. This will help give teachers insight on a student’s demonstrated interest inside and out of class. Your class grades have not diminished in value.” said Mr. Wang. “Students should be vigilant with….reaching out to teachers with questions or concerns,” social studies teacher Frank McCaughey added.

Mr. Wang recommended starting personal essays early, since many colleges have not extended deadlines. “You should start looking at the college essay prompts and see which ones are a good fit for you. Before the end of the summer, you should have a good draft done and a list of colleges that you have done research on.” Elizabeth commented, “Injecting whatever represents your personality, regardless of the essay’s content—humor, sarcasm, emotions—lets admissions officers feel like they’re connecting with you on a more personal level.”

As a last bit of advice, Mr. Wang added, “Your writing cannot stay at the level of descriptive, it should be analytical. You should talk about your motivation and originality…Tell them what you want to tell them, not what they want to hear from you.”

“I know it’s a stressful time right now…but I think it’s important to remember to reach out to your counselors if you’re having any struggles. Also reach out to seniors who have gone through the process already: don’t forget that we’re all here for each other,” junior Xu Dong concluded.