Area college admissions more flexible during COVID


College application season can be a stressful time for high school students

Try to put together the best possible scores on the SAT and ACT tests. Making sure their grades are as stellar as possible.

And don’t forget the other factors that colleges like to look at, those that show a student is well-rounded. There are sports and clubs and groups and part-time jobs and volunteering.

But what happens when all of these things become difficult, if not impossible? What happens when a global pandemic closes schools and businesses when sports competitions and school activities are cancelled?

This is what many high school students today are facing thanks to the wreckage that COVID-19 has left in its deadly path.

The pandemic has changed daily life a lot, especially in education. He has created a very unique school environment over the past two years, one that has not been so easy for some students to navigate.

Local college admissions officers are well aware of this. And they say they’re doing what they can to be flexible and allay high school students’ concerns about the impact COVID is having on their college applications.


“Admissions officials across the country are keenly aware that the pandemic has limited and altered opportunities for students,” said Robert G. Springall, assistant vice president for undergraduate teaching and executive director of admissions at undergraduate at Penn State University. “Some students’ favorite activities – whether music, sports, internships or service – have been interrupted or cancelled.”

Springall said high school students have had a wide variety of experiences throughout the pandemic, something colleges need to keep in mind.

“Some events continued during virtual school, others were canceled,” he said. “We also know that many students have had to take on new family responsibilities, such as tutoring younger siblings and watching over them while mom or dad worked from home.”

One of the ways Penn State is trying to alleviate some of the stress the pandemic has created on applicants is to make SAT or ACT scores optional, Springall said.

“It allows high school students to apply to Penn State and decide whether they want to submit SAT or ACT scores to complete their applications,” he said. “At the height of the pandemic, SAT and ACT testing was significantly disrupted, with many students finding out at the last minute that their scheduled exams had been cancelled. Students also lost opportunities to take practice tests and exam preparation courses. »

Springall said that in 2021, more than half of Penn State’s freshman applications were submitted with a test score.

Ursinus College has been “test optional for decades,” said Shannon Zottola, the school’s vice president and dean of enrollment management and marketing.

“But one of the things we did this year was last round, we changed the model of our first fellowship, to make that test optional as well,” Zottola said. “COVID has caused several changes and we wanted to make sure that we maintained access for students who needed the scholarship the most, so we placed more emphasis on GPA for this element.”

Listening to students

Mary-Alice Ozechoski, Alvernia University’s vice president for enrollment management, said the school’s admissions officers have been screening prospective students to get an idea of ​​how the pandemic has affected them. .

“Students who were juniors last year, at this point we reach out and ask them how it was for them in their first year,” she said. “We’ve had students say it wasn’t great.”

Ozechoski said a large number of schools that spent most or all of the 2020-21 school year in virtual learning had a far-reaching impact.

“There are students who will do well in virtual learning and others who won’t,” she said. “We tell them, listen, if that wasn’t the best environment for you, if it just wasn’t great, let us know.”

Ozechoski said that because Alvernia has rolling admissions — there isn’t one, set date when applications must be submitted for the next school year — the college was able to take its time and get a better idea. the situation of each candidate.

In cases where a first-year student’s grades have dropped, she said, the college reviews the grades from the first half of their senior year.

“In 90% of cases there is a bump,” she said.

As for all the activities that traditionally fill college applications, Ozechoski said she understands the pandemic may have derailed them.

“Of course, we like to see these things at the request of a student,” she said. “But if they’ve been eliminated and it’s out of the student’s control, there’s really nothing you can do about it.”

Overall, Ozechoski said, admissions officers at Alvernia try to be empathetic and understanding.

Closer to home

Ursinus College asked school counselors about COVID-induced changes in student admissions. (MediaNews Group File Photo)

Zottola said Ursinus wanted to get a clearer picture of how the candidacy picture was shaping up, so in the fall the school sent out a survey to 31,597 high school counselors asking how COVID had impacted students. application patterns of their students, compared to typical years.

“We noticed right away that counselors were spending so much time looking after the mental health of their students that they didn’t have as much time to spend on college counseling. There just wasn’t enough time in the day to meet all of their students’ needs,” she said.

This may be why Ursinus only got 259 responses to his survey.

Among the survey responses was one that might be expected from students who had just endured two years of education-related trauma in a pandemic.

While counselors said in the survey that students had applied to roughly the same number of schools as during the pandemic, 65% said they had applied to more schools closer to home. .

Additionally, 14% of counselors said their students were applying to fewer schools, and these students were also more likely to report that their students were applying to more schools closer to home, as well as a smaller one. variety of schools, depending on the survey.

Most advisers said they recommend students apply to six to 10 schools, depending on the survey.

“Total understanding”

Dwayne Walker, vice president of admissions at Albright College, said much the same thing.

“The message we have given to students interested in Albright is that we fully understand how the COVID pandemic has impacted their ability to participate in sports, extracurricular activities, volunteering,” said he declared. “We don’t hold it against them.

Walker said the pandemic and all of its impacts have led to more frequent and deeper conversations with prospective students.

“If they share how they spent their time during the pandemic, it helps us better understand who they are as individuals,” he said.

Walker said he’s heard from many prospective students who are worried about academic performance that has been impacted by COVID. For example, he said, some schools pass/fail certain courses instead of issuing letter grades.

“We don’t hold it against them either,” Walker said. “We are looking at the courses they have taken.”

Walker said Albright also takes into account whether or not students should learn virtually and, in some cases, reviews final year’s second semester grades.

Walker said he wanted to give prospective students peace of mind that COVID will not be an obstacle to their academic future.

“We tell students not to worry,” he said. “We are understanding. We empathize with everything the students have experienced because we have experienced it in a different way too.

“There were a lot of students applying this year who really struggled in their freshman year when everyone went remote,” Zottola said. “We have observed behavioral changes and are focusing on removing or reducing barriers in the process.”

Zottola said, “there are so many students and parents who are confused and overwhelmed by the experience. They are really all very stressed, more than I have ever seen.


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