The college admissions process is already harrowing. With high schools switching over to pass/fail grading and standardized test dates being postponed or even cancelled, the pressure felt by rising juniors and seniors is quickly turning to panic as they face the unknown. Many are asking “Without standardized test scores or numeric grades, how will I set myself apart from other applicants? What are colleges looking for? How has the admissions process changed?”
Fortunately, students will be relieved to hear that such questions are being addressed. The pandemic forces colleges to rethink and reform how they assess applicants and what to assess.
Standardized Tests Are No Longer the Standard
Colleges across the nation acknowledge that rescheduling and cancellations have severely affected students’ testing options and availability. In response, many institutions are making applications for Fall 2021 to be test-optional. Students may submit their scores on their own accord, but for a large number of schools, like the UC system, MIT, Columbia University, and NYU, test scores are no longer a required component of the application.
Looking at the Big Picture
Admissions officers understand the major interruption caused by the pandemic and how it directly influences students’ extra-curriculars. As a result, applications will be viewed more holistically, especially in comparison to previous years. Colleges will focus on the applicant’s grades made during the semesters prior to the pass/fail switch that many schools began in Spring 2020. Students should also plan to pay extra attention to their application essays. With in-person interviews, information sessions, and campus tours at a standstill, essays are one of the few remaining ways applicants are able to express their interests and aspirations.
While colleges understand the coronavirus has derailed students’ typical activities, students can still set themselves apart by displaying their adaptability and innovation. This is best expressed to admissions officers via continued proactivity. Students should try to find different ways to pursue their interests despite varied social distancing measures required. Conduct band practices online. Seek out virtual volunteer and internship opportunities. Pursue a passion project with friends. Find social-distance friendly ways to commit to a cause. Keep a diary with daily reflections. All of these will be useful when it’s time to write essays and answer supplemental questions. Additionally, plan to attend virtual information sessions and college tours. Colleges will recognize students who continue to demonstrate their interest to the school while remaining proactive and creative during this time. Such qualities speak more to an admissions officer than any test score or grade.