Opinion: What it’s like to apply to college during a pandemic

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It’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon. After my 45 minute break, I open my computer to hundreds of tabs. Is the SAT optional? YouVisit. Common Application. Naviance. These are only some of the websites that constantly plague my computer screen. At 4 o’clock, I start revising my Common App essay. Delete, tab, space, as I attempt to edit it to perfection. The next time I check the clock, it’s 8 o’clock and I’ve only added two sentences to the entire essay. At 9 o’clock, it’s time to write the Humanities paper I have due and study for that tricky Calculus test in a couple of days. By midnight, my eyes are exhausted and teary. Six hours of school screen time, followed by six hours of college applications and three hours of homework, has my brain ready to shut down and my eyes ready to close. Tomorrow morning, this vicious cycle starts again. 

College applications have been incredibly stressful. Typically, senior year is known as one of the “easier” years, as you’re older, wiser, and have a greater understanding of the way high school works and what your teachers expect. However, if you take college applications into account, senior year becomes harder than you would think. Now with the pandemic, senior year and college applications are even more difficult than usual. 

YouVisit has become my lifeline during the college application process. This website allows you to access virtual college tours, where you can see the exterior and interior of the buildings on whatever campus you choose to explore. Some days, I’ll sit in my bed, open my browser, and tour my dream schools, imagining myself there. Other days, it’s more frustrating, as the website doesn’t have every school, so I miss out on seeing some of my other favorite schools. Although YouVisit is a great tool, not being able to physically explore the campus leaves me apprehensive about colleges I’m interested in. In January, I went on the college trip and had the opportunity to tour the schools and eat at their dining halls. I was able to “vibe” with the colleges I liked, and I could truly connect to the campuses and see myself going there. That trip taught me the importance of going to visit colleges, and not having that for the majority of schools I’m applying to stresses me.

Almost every Friday at 2:15 p.m., we have senior meeting. Since we’re[seniors] in the midst of applying to college, every meeting focuses on a different aspect of the application process, from gathering teacher recommendations to FAFSA and CSS profiles. During the meetings, I find myself constantly texting my friends to double-check information with them. It’s easy to miss things, especially questions in the Zoom chat, so oftentimes I have my phone next to me, ready to ask my friends for further clarification. Although these meetings are definitely helpful, not being able to see the guidance department every day makes the application process more complicated. When I was a junior, I would pass through the 3rd floor, watching my senior friends walk into guidance to ask quick, last-minute application questions. During my free, I would enter the Clave (Classic office), and hear an abundance of college application talk. Usually, the seniors would clarify information among themselves and with their counselors, ensuring that everyone knew what to do. With remote schooling, there’s inconsistent communication with guidance and friends who could help. Obviously, it’s nobody’s fault; the situation is horrible, and everyone is trying their best to make sure we understand the application process. But, I still can’t help but have a constant ache in my stomach because I feel like I messed up somewhere in my application.

And then there’s the SAT. Initially, when I heard schools were test-optional, I was so happy to hear that my source of stress would go away but I was also slightly annoyed considering how much I studied for it. For a couple of weeks, I pondered whether I should still take the test, but after talking with adults, I thought it would still be better to have a score. Although colleges say they’re test-optional, I’m still skeptical considering how much weight SATs held in the college admissions process in the past. On the day of the SAT, students’ tests were getting canceled at the door, which caused a lot of anxiety within me. After finding out mine wasn’t canceled, I had to do a Covid-19 questioning, and then I was able to take the test. 

Taking the SAT in a pandemic was unusual, to say the least. Everyone was socially distanced; we had entire tables to ourselves. We kept on our masks unless we needed a quick sip of water, and the room was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. When it was over, we left in sections to limit contact. 

My experience of applying to college during Covid-19 has been worrisome. I didn’t have extracurriculars or friends to keep my mind off of the impending decisions, and the amount of school work just exacerbated my stress and exhaustion. 

However, all of the stress and exhaustion finally paid off, as I was accepted to Harvard University on December 17. 

My words of advice are to try your best and be authentic. Also, remember that everything will work out in the end.