The impact of remote learning from 2020 to 2021 has gone beyond the high school experience. Students who are about to graduate in June had to navigate a new version of the college admissions process that proved more challenging than before.
Limited appointments for SAT and ACT testing, an inconducive environment for learning and limited social interaction are only some of the many challenges that impacted students’ preparation for college applications this school year.
The prime time to take the SAT or ACT is in the fall or spring of junior year, but with a large number of test cancellations during 2020 and early 2021, rising seniors lost the opportunity to take the test. When testing resumed, securing a test appointment before application deadlines was difficult, and students often had to travel far to take the tests.
Norah White, 17, a Skyline High School senior, had to drive more than 45 minutes to a test center in Maple Valley.
“It was really hard to find a location, but I did end up taking it,” said White.
Extracurricular activities are an important part of school life that gets showcased in college applications, but the pandemic changed those activities completely.
Sylvia Daw, 18, a Sammamish resident who attends Eastside Academics High School in Bellevue, was disappointed that she did not get much done in her extracurricular activities. She is a member of a Jewish charity league, and they would normally meet at the Jewish community center. However, it had to be completely switched online, and it was much less productive. They are currently raising money to support homelessness and environmental causes, but when they were online, they were less collaborative, so everyone had to do things independently, and meetings were often canceled because not many people showed up.
She was also in the Gender Sexuality Alliance club, and they had many projects planned to help the school. But they were not able to execute any of them.
“Nothing was running smoothly, there were so many complications with tech and organizing, and somehow, less people showed up to extracurriculars than when it was in person,” said Daw.
An important component of an application dossier is letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors. Colleges expect to receive letters from teachers who taught the student during junior year since they have the most current perspective on the student. Online learning stunted many students’ ability to cultivate personal connections with their teachers, making it difficult for a teacher to write authentically about a student’s character.
“COVID stopped every single relationship I could have formed with my teachers because they were unable to get to know me,” Sofia Perrina, 17, a senior at Eastside Catholic High School, said.
After attending school virtually for about 18 months, many current seniors experienced a lack of motivation and found it difficult to take their academics seriously. College applications did not inspire the same level of urgency that past students felt during pre-COVID times.
“It just takes a lot of self-discipline to actually sit down and do those [college] applications,” Daw, the Eastside Academics student, said.
Remote learning also gave students a false sense of free time. Now, they have gotten used to procrastinating on college essays. Perrina kept debating between various essay topics.
“The one [essay] that I finally settled on, I changed it again and wrote a 600-word essay the day it was due,” she said.
The pandemic has caused a disillusioned feeling among the students. They felt disadvantaged by the loss of two crucial years in their education and were left without any words to describe their experience. Some seniors also revisited their future plans.
Perrina had planned to apply to the Air Force Academy. She had been exercising regularly in order to be a compelling applicant. But during the pandemic, she had a change of heart.
“I wasn’t physically fit enough, and because of COVID, my feelings about the Air Force changed,” Perrina said. “It eventually pushed me to not even continue my application, and I decided to apply to other colleges instead.”
The senior class continues to grapple with the impact that remote learning had on their lives, including the detrimental effect it had on their academic performance and mental health.
“I think it was a big struggle for me because I felt lonely when I couldn’t talk to people in person a lot,” White, the Skyline student, said. “I think the social environment of school is really important for me, and I feel like if you don’t have that, there’s not a lot of motivation to learn.”