Senior Lily Koch (right) examines the Scoir scatterplots with college counselor Ben Wescott (left) during her free period. Photo: Sloane Wagreich

While COVID-19 has certainly changed the way everyone is going about their day-to-day lives, it has had a prominent impact on the college process for the class of 2021. Due to the virus, many students have not had the opportunity to take standardized tests, and schools across the country went pass/fail for their classes at the end of this past spring semester.

Families around the world have experienced financial crises, losing jobs and months’ worth of income. According to CNBC, student loan balances are expected to rise in the coming years, and 56% of students reported that they will need to apply for some form of financial aid. To make matters worse, around 40% of parents have had to pull money from their children’s college savings in order to compensate for lost income during the pandemic.

One drastic change in the process has been the shift to test-optional and test-flexible policies. Almost all of the colleges and universities in the U.S. have switched their testing policies for students applying for the fall 2021 semester as they recognize that testing companies have canceled their tests, including the SAT and ACT. “It’s so frustrating because my test got canceled in April, June and July, and I had limited chances to improve my score,” said senior Mary Paige Pope.

Schools such as Harvard University, University of North Carolina and Tulane University are waiving the requirement for standardized testing, claiming that it will not harm students’ chances of admission if they don’t submit test scores. A Knightly News poll of Pace seniors indicated that almost 36% of respondents are taking advantage of these policies and choosing not to submit their standardized test scores.

Pace college counselors are prepared to address this change. “I would say one of the major changes in this process has been standardized testing,” said Director of College Counseling Jonathan Ferrell. “This is certainly one of the places that we’re having to have different conversations with students and families – around submitting tests or not.”

Due to the pandemic, many students have reevaluated where they are looking as well. According to ABCNews, a student who had her heart set on attending the University of Southern California immediately crossed all West Coast and Midwest schools off of her list due to fears of contracting the virus and being too far from home. In the Knightly News poll of Pace seniors, 61.3% of respondents expressed interest in staying in the South, and the same percent of students showed interest in Northeastern schools.

Pace students are more hesitant about applying early decision to schools this coming year. Early decision is a binding agreement, meaning that if you get in, you are required to attend said school. Students have claimed that since many of their college visits have been canceled, they don’t feel comfortable committing anywhere so early in the process.

“Due to the fact that many of my college tours were canceled this spring, I had to eliminate some schools off of my list because I know nothing about them,” said senior Jack Brown. “The virtual tours are helpful, but not the same as visiting the actual campus.”

Pace college counselors are working to make this process run as smoothly as possible, knowing how stressful it is layered on top of these unprecedented times. They have recognized the cancellations of in-person college visits, taking time to speak with students about what the best approach may be.

“There are deadlines particularly coming up soon which are November, or early decision, deadlines,” said Mr. Ferrell. “It’s very difficult for our students to wrap their mind around committing that deeply to a school that they may not have seen. We are having lots of conversations around whether early decision is the best tool or strategy for [students] to use or might we adjust that strategy based on where they have or have not been able to visit.”

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