Juniors begin college search process with remote learning on the mind

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Junior year traditionally marks the beginning of the college process, whether it be by taking the SAT, making a college list, attending college trips, or pondering ideas for personal essays. However, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the process for this year’s juniors.

Questions about the SAT are “definitely the biggest conversation starter with my juniors,” said guidance counselor Sara Skoda. Testing itself is uncertain, with high schools closed and tests sometimes being canceled at the door. It’s also unclear whether or not colleges would even be considering the SAT as an admissions factor for the class of 2022. 

Junior Amit Sewnauth said he sees a silver lining in the SAT uncertainty. “With many schools putting less emphasis on the SATs, I would say it feels a bit liberating,” he said. 

What is also different about college admissions for today’s juniors are college trips or, rather, the lack thereof. Guidance counselor Jeremy Wang said, “I believe that a lack of physical visit to college campuses will have some negative effect on our students’ college selection process, unfortunately.” However, he added that alternatives to tours, such as virtual visits and online information sessions, might help juniors “make up some aspects of the campus visits” that they are missing. 

Many have expressed concern that the ongoing pandemic increases the difficulty of understanding the college admissions process as well as what goes into a competitive application. 

Junior Linda Shi said, “Junior year is the most important year of high school and I was extremely concerned about my academic grades and college applications.” She was so worried, she said, that “at one point I couldn’t sleep.” 

Linda said she is especially frustrated by the inability to just drop in to the guidance office, which is what juniors in past years have been able to do when they had a question for their guidance counselor. “College research in general gives me a lot of anxiety so in order to not stress myself, I told myself I’ll talk to my guidance [counselor] instead of freaking out alone,” she said. But she has found that remote learning has made talking to her guidance counselor much more difficult. She said she’s been trying to email, “but I haven’t heard any response.”

For some, the pandemic has had a negative impact. Junior Avani Seelall said the pandemic most likely will not change what schools she plans to apply to, “but it did make the admission process more confusing. Each college has its own method of adjusting to the virus which makes it hard to know what I should be focusing on [or] expecting.” 

For some, the pandemic has had a positive impact. Amit said, “The pandemic has actually caused me to take a greater interest in my college search. Before, it wasn’t something I thought about too much, but now, being a junior while no longer going into school, it’s something I think about more.”

For others, the pandemic has had no impact on college lists. Junior Romeo Fiedtkou wanted to remain in New York City for college before the pandemic, and that notion hasn’t changed nearly a year since. He said, “I’ve always wanted to stay in NYC for college, and even with the pandemic in mind that notion will probably stay. It doesn’t really matter where I am, my risk of getting the virus would still be the same with the students in the building. Practicing proper hygiene and safety measures should be more than enough to keep me safe.” 

Some juniors said that the cancellation of college visits and the transition to virtual college visits didn’t affect some people. Junior Emma Bell said, “I was never planning to go on college tours, so virtual is good for me.” 

Others have seen an effect on how they see different career fields in addition to finding colleges they want to apply to. Junior Ethan Diep said, “I do think the pandemic has made it harder to be able to see what career options I have in that I find it hard to see what colleges can offer me. I would be open to any college that’s really good and also have great opportunities for me to become successful but it has been harder to actually find those sorts of colleges.”

Another source of stress is also wondering whether the college admissions officers will take into account the current learning environment, which is remote for all current NYC high school students. This, however, may not be a big problem. According to a collaborative affirmation from 315 college admission deans, many admissions officers have promised to take into consideration any obstacles posed by the pandemic. 

In terms of what matters more in terms of admissions, Assistant Principal of Guidance Veronica York said, “Students being strategic, how you used this time, and essays. If we each spent one day journaling or journaling every night and really working on our creative writing, I think it’s things like that that really help your college admission.” She indicated that this would help students improve the narrative they present in their college essays. 

Likewise, guidance counselor Kathleen Blakeley said, “Everybody just [has] to make sure that they’re safely taking care of themselves in the way that they’re comfortable.”