Students have had to make some major adjustments in the classroom since the coronavirus pandemic struck last spring. For high school seniors there’s one more big change: the college admissions process.
With SAT tests canceled, and college tours suspended, picking where they’re going to spend the next four years has never been harder for some students.
NBC Connecticut spoke to some seniors about the pressure this pandemic has put on their college plans as well as with the school counselors and college admissions officials helping them navigate the process.
“At first, I would have to say that I was a little bit overwhelmed,” said Micaela Potamis, a senior at Southington High School.
Potamis tried to get a head start on the college application process at the beginning of the summer, but was slowed down by the cancellation of the college entrance exams.
“This has actually been kind of difficult for our families and our students because they still want to submit the scores,” said Jennifer Discenza, the director of school counseling for Southington Public Schools.
Discenza said many colleges are making tests optional because so many students don’t know when or even if they’ll be able to take them.
“I feel set where a lot of kids are really nervous or they’re unsure of what to do but I already did the majority like taking the SAT, so I feel really prepared,” said Aurianna Monteiro.
She took her tests, made several campus visits, and even submitted some applications during her junior year, pre-pandemic.
However, Monteiro only got to take the SAT once. Even though the schools she’s interested in have made them optional for admittance, her mother, Nicole, is worried about the financial impact of not getting a second chance.
“The SAT score helps gets you merit scholarships and things like that and is that money going to be available to these students?” asked Nicole Monteiro.
Quinnipiac University made test scores optional in 2017. Central Connecticut State University is doing so this year.
“A lot of these kids, this is their first time taking them. So, in years past kids could take them several times and get used to the process, but for these kids for many of them it’s going to be a one and done situation and I think that’s hard, that’s a disadvantage,” said Amy Lindstrom, mother of a high school senior in Manchester.
Schools that have gone this route are looking for other attributes to fill the gap.
"Their essay or their personal statement, their clubs and activities,” said Karissa Peckham, Associate Vice President of Enrollment at Central Connecticut State University.
College admissions counselors know the virtual learning students did last spring may not have made the grade, they may not have gotten the chance to take their SATs, and those extra-circulars that are so important on a college application may still be canceled too.
“We understand that. Most admissions offices are responding with, give us what you have, tell us what you’ve done, we understand this is the year you’d planned for,” said Eric Sykes, vice president for enrollment at Quinnipiac University.
Noah Lindstrom missed out on the spring track season when schools closed at the height of the pandemic. It’s football he plans to play in college, but with high school games still up in the air he’s worried about his future on the gridiron.
“I have that film and everything I need from last season but it would have been really great to get another season of film and another season of experience,” he said.
Now, more colleges are going to look at a student’s entire high school experience and not just their report cards.
“The hope is that the student was involved in something before the pandemic hit because the bottom line is that colleges can tell when students are trying to load up on extra-curricular activities at the last minute,” explained Melane Thomas, a Manchester High School School counselor.
Minus her test scores, Potamis has found ways of reaching out to the colleges she's interested in, even doing virtual interviews with faculty at schools down south.
“It is where you’re going to be going to school for the next four years, so you want to make sure the school knows what kind of person you are,” she pointed out.
Virtual Tours Replace In-Person Visits
Lindstrom said he’s been scouring social media and YouTube to get a sense of what student life is like on college campuses.
“Alumni are huge in my opinion for giving you a sense of the school and type of community that's fostered at the school,” he explained.
His family felt they came up short trying to visit the schools he's interested in over the summer.
"We couldn't get into any buildings, or there weren't tour guides or anything like that so we were just kind of roaming the campuses on our own,” said Amy Lindstrom .
While some schools have suspended campus tours, others are allowing limited visits.
"They're not seeing the entire campus. We are not bringing them into the residence halls,” Sykes explained.
Just like their classes, many colleges have turned to the internet to give prospective students a sense of college life.
"We are going to be doing all of our high school visits and all of our college fairs virtually,” said Peckham.
CCSU will host virtual tours of campus as well as smaller in-person tours with limited interaction with faculty and students.
Quinnipiac University will host virtual tours of the parts of its campus that can't be seen in person, along with live open houses.
"The situation that we're in is making it much more equitable for students because not all students had the opportunity to go visit a college campus,” said Discenza.
"These colleges, I will say, have done a great job simulating the actual experience of the school campus,” said Nicole Monteiro.
It’s an experience that has changed during the pandemic.
"The physical feel of a campus is super important but now we're dealing with the possibility of not even being there physically,” Thomas pointed out. "If you're going to be taking a class online, you're not going to be on that campus anyway and the hope is that you enjoy the classes that you sign up with."