Seniors forced to make college application decisions at a distance
Fall is almost here, and schools have begun in virtual session, all while COVID-19 continues to hinder the college application plans of high school seniors. With most college campuses still closed and not open for tours, seniors are being compelled to figure out nontraditional ways to research colleges and prepare their application lists.
Based on interviews with fifty-three seniors from Eastside Catholic, Skyline and Eastlake high schools, all except for one have already thought about their college plans. Thirty-four have also completed a college tour of some kind over the past couple of years.
“There is only so much that articles and facts can tell you about a school, it is a completely different ballpark to visit the campus and see how it feels,” said Katherine McGee, a senior at Eastlake. “I have taken schools off my list that I thought I would love but ended up hating after visiting.”
Most of the students think that in-person tours are important. Students who have not had a chance to visit colleges are now feeling the loss of a crucial part of their college search experience.
A majority of the fifty-three students, however, admitted to being relatively inactive in engaging their college search during the lockdown. That being said, they do have some idea of how to gather information about colleges they would like to attend.
Since March, only a few students have been actively researching colleges either online or in-person. With many college campuses limited to remote instruction for the fall term, these students plan to obtain college information through websites, and by speaking to alumni, enrolled students, counselors and college staff members.
“Online tours can still teach you about a college’s academics and technical opportunities even if you cannot see the campus life yourself,” said Srijan Acharya, a senior at Eastlake.
A few students said that they might visit the campus without an organized tour if they could.
Each student is driven by their own criteria for selecting the colleges they will apply to.
“Personally, my main focus in choosing my college is the programs they offer and their reputation for the major I will choose,” said Angelo Dauz, a senior at Eastlake. “Of course, the atmosphere and environment are important to me, but that comes second behind the education they have to offer.”
Twenty of the rising seniors, including Dauz, said that in-person tours were not an important factor for them. While it would be helpful to visit a campus, they are fine deciding without seeing the school firsthand.
Students have been looking for alternative ways to get a feel for the campus atmosphere without visiting in-person. They are turning to websites or apps such as Niche, CollegeBoard, CollegeVine, and YouTube to get information about colleges.
Niche is a website that has rankings and reviews of colleges, along with potential scholarships they and other organizations offer. CollegeVine offers guidance on applications and college essays, along with mentorships, tutoring and test preparation services.
“Another useful thing I have been doing is [viewing] a-day-in-my-life videos on YouTube,” McGhee, the Eastlake senior, said. “It is really helpful to be able to look at the school through the lens of a student.”
Student athletes are also seeking athletic recruitment as part of their college search. Their primary goal has been to understand the team atmosphere of their sport at the college they are researching. Senior Brooke Caragher is trying to get recruited for rowing, a sport she has pursued for four years. She has communicated with team members from colleges rowing teams on FaceTime in order to get to know them better.
“I am looking for people that not only want to succeed but want their team to succeed as well,” Caragher said. “People who are grateful to be where they are and just want to work hard and have fun. Humble but hungry.”
Due to sports recruitment, Caragher’s college application process is different from others. She expects to hear whether she gets accepted by October.
Although most students have a plan for how they will select their college, there are eight seniors who are still unsure about what they plan to do. There are contrasting sentiments from these students. Some feel unmotivated in their college pursuit. Some are relaxed, thinking that they still have plenty of time. Others feel overwhelmed by the whole process. Financing their education is also a concern for some students. A few are contemplating taking a gap year.
As with everything else, the climate of uncertainty and the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the college admissions process for high school seniors. Students are adapting and finding new ways of learning about colleges, and making this critical decision for their future.