Juniors face new challenges as college approaches

(Photo by Emma Crosson)

By Emma Crosson, News Editor

While all high school students are currently dealing with the consequences of COVID-19, between e-learning, cancellations of standardized tests, and approaching college applications, juniors in particular are feeling the academic repercussions of the virus. 

Many juniors are worried about how the virus will affect their college application process in the fall.

The uprising of COVID-19 is going to put a lot more stress on college applications,” junior Kendall Oslowski said. “Now that many universities are becoming test optional, the class of 2021 will need to stand out in other ways. College essays, extracurricular activities, and our current GPA are now more important than ever.”

One specific reason students are worried is because of the cancellation of many upcoming standardized tests. Many students didn’t get the opportunity to retake or even take an exam.

“The testing situation has made me a little more nervous about applying to schools because my ACT score wasn’t as high as I wanted it to be,” junior Cailee Oslowski said. “Now, I have fewer opportunities to retake it. I also will be relying more on my GPA, which isn’t where I want it to be.”

Currently, the June 6 SAT has been canceled. The College Board plans to provide SAT exams every weekend from August to December, assuming it is safe from a public health standpoint. Registration for these test dates will begin in late May. SAT also plans to have the free in-school SAT be made up in fall in exchange for the one canceled in April. In addition, if schools do not reopen in the fall, the College Board is going to have a digital, at-home SAT.

ACT administration is also planning some changes for next year, though they plan to keep the June 13 and July 18 test dates , if health considerations permit. Although this had been planned prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, ACT will still be offering section retesting in the fall, which would allow students to take individual sections of the ACT without taking the entire test again. In addition, beginning in September 2020, students will be able to decide if they want to take the exam online or on paper. Online testing will only take place at designated testing centers. Desktop computers or a different device will be provided for test takers. 

The goal of an online exam is to make it equivalent to a paper test and for quicker results. The online exam will have features like a line reader and a highlighter. One effect of online testing is that multiple-choice scores and the composite score can be reported back within two business days after the test date. 

Furthermore, ACT will be offering a digital at-home exam beginning in fall or early winter of 2020.

However, some worry that switching to an at-home test can lead to problems with fairness. 

“My concern is that digital divide,” Maine South Career and College Admissions Specialist Mrs. Moreth said. “It is just not fair. Some kids have better access to technology or quiet spaces in their house to take the exam, and students who might not have the same family or home situation are not going to have the benefit of having a place to really take the exam or the equipment to do. There are just a whole number of inequities that arise from these at-home tests.”

As a result of the cancellation of many standardized tests, many universities have decided to temporarily become test optional. In total, about fifty universities and colleges currently have dropped the ACT/SAT requirement, including Boston University, the University of California, Tulane, Northeastern, Cornell, and Harvard. 

Some students are happy about this change.

“If standardized tests are not a driving factor in the application process, I can apply to the more elite schools that I really want to go to,” junior Grace Browning said. “Before, my SAT score was the only thing holding me back, but if they cancel them, I would like to think I have a better chance of getting in. Without the SAT/ACT playing a major role in applying to schools, schools will look at students’ GPA more, and I am very proud of mine and think it accurately represents my work ethic.”

Just because a school is test optional, however, doesn’t mean that a prospective student should not submit their scores.

“Test optional could never hurt a student,” Mrs. Moreth said. “With test optional, it allows more students into a waiting room so to speak. This gives more students an opportunity to be viable candidates on paper. So, it usually results in more applications for a college, which actually leads to more selectivity. I think it would depend on what the score is and the school that they are applying to. But certainly students who have the ability to take the test and still fall within their 50% range should submit their test.”

An additional concern of the application process in the fall is not having the opportunity to tour schools in person. In response, many schools are offering virtual tours through their individual websites.

“In a way, students can do more if the tour is virtual because they won’t have any travel expenses or time away from school,” Mrs. Moreth said. “They have the ability to virtually visit a number of schools and get a feel for them. Juniors can take this time to really build a better list. The advice I’m getting from seniors is that they really wished they had started visiting earlier because they waited until they got their admission letters, and they were going to go on spring break, and then that wasn’t happening. So as much as juniors can, investigate and explore.”

At this point, there have been no changes to next year’s application deadlines.

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