Applying to College During a Pandemic Brings New Challenges


SHS seniors see the light at the end of the tunnel, but applying to college during a pandemic is stressful

Delaney Sandner and Jada Thielen

2020 has been a year of complications and unknowns. With a pandemic occurring during an election year, everyone is on edge. This new reality seems to be affecting many aspects of life–including how future generations can apply to college. Questions and confusion stockpile in the minds of high school seniors, as they want to apply to college but don’t know how to deal with the challenges of the current situation. For some, there may be a feeling of regret for not appreciating the simplicity of previous school years; however, there is still hope for a successful college experience. 

Recent SHS graduate Skyler Sandner, a Pennsylvania State University freshman, is experiencing her first year of college in a way she never imagined. According to Sandner, her freshman year has been filled with lots of “unknowns” and “restrictions.” Students on her campus, located in State College, PA, have been experimenting with how to make their classes work–whether in-person or online. Both teachers and students are trying new strategies to discover what fits best for their courses. With over 40,000 undergraduate students, the Penn State community must stay on top of their new safety protocols and requirements.

It is undeniable that college students enjoy socializing. Being in a new place with completely new people, college freshmen, in particular, want to go out and meet their new best friends; however, the pandemic has slowed this process. According to Sandner, “It’s very hard to meet new people right now–almost all campus activities have been canceled or modified for the pandemic.” She explained that there’s a “risk of being sent home at the end of the week lingering over everyone’s head.”

Within the first week of moving into Penn State, Sandner said there was a “mosh pit” of students who were not wearing masks or being socially distant. Later, there was a party at a fraternity, which resulted in some students being suspended. In fact, many colleges have imposed strict safety rules, enforcing social distancing to keep everyone healthy. For this reason, Sandner advises seniors to reach out early to prospective colleges and get a feel for the campus restrictions. Sandner also recommends shadowing a student at colleges you are considering, as you now can do this via Zoom. Sandner did this, and it was very useful to her. In addition, many colleges are hosting virtual open houses and campus tours, allowing prospective students to explore the school safely. 

SHS guidance counselor James Cooney is well-versed in the subject of college admissions and has seen changes in the process between last year and this year. In-person communication and paperwork are now replaced with online meetings and electronic forms. Cooney said this could be difficult for some students, as it can lead to miscommunications. On the topic of taking (or not taking) a gap year, Cooney said, “I think it’s smart for seniors if they can get a job and make money to save up, but some students can’t wait and want to just go to college now.” Cooney suggested it is “smart to play it safe” for seniors who don’t want to risk going to college during a pandemic.

According to Cooney, some SHS seniors are “stressed and worried about getting into their college of choice, and are trying to get into their reach for college.” Due to the pandemic, some colleges are understandably adjusting their expectations during the current admissions cycle. Some colleges are receiving fewer applications than usual, which could open new doors for this year’s high school seniors. Cooney encourages students to take advantage of this opportunity, as this is an unusual time. Many colleges have waived the SAT since exams have been canceled due to capacity limits in test centers. Emmanuel College, located in Boston, Fairmont State University, located in Fairmont, West Virginia, and Mansfield University, located in Mansfield, PA, are just some of the many colleges waiving the SAT. Cooney explained that last year, several SHS students moved off the waitlist of their preferred schools. 

Justin McLean, a senior attending Silver Lake Regional High School in Kingston, MA, explained how Covid is affecting his college application process: “Some schools have waived the SAT, so I don’t have the pressure of getting a good SAT score.” This is a relief since many students struggle with standardized test-taking and worry about their scores. Even though many schools are offering virtual opportunities for future students, McLean said he would rather tour schools in person. McLean is also disappointed at the possibility of attending college from home. He says he would much rather get an in-person college experience than attending classes virtually.  Currently, McLean is contemplating taking a gap year in order to save money, hoping to have a more “normal” college experience after a vaccine for the virus has been developed. 

Although the current pandemic has created numerous challenges for seniors applying to college, many students are taking advantage of virtual events and exploring how gap years could be advantageous. This year’s high school seniors are building important life skills and learning how to adapt to difficult situations.