Getting carpal tunnel from long essay writing sessions at Starbucks, taking last minute SAT tests and knocking on your past teacher’s classroom door are all symptoms most high school seniors develop. The ailment? College application season. However, this year things look a little different. And not just in the application process, but the admissions process. And they may look a little different forevermore.
According to the University of California (UC) website, the UC system will be test-optional for fall 2021 and fall 2022 enrollment, meaning that students can choose whether or not they want to submit their SAT, ACT or SAT subject test scores. The UC system will be test-blind for fall 2023 and fall 2024 enrollment, meaning that the schools will refuse to look at a student’s standardized test scores. Across the country, many other universities are also going test-optional. Following the pattern of a decreased importance of numbers and stats, many current seniors had a credit/no credit grading policy during the second semester of junior year. Although some students may be anxious at the decreased weight of objective admissions factors, the focus is now shifted to what really matters: character and passion.
So, doesn’t this mean an increased weight of essays and extracurriculars? Yes, and no. The pandemic severely limits students’ access to different activities. The club you go to every Friday at lunch? Gone. Volunteering once a week at the local hospital? Poof. But because you can’t go out, you’re likely to only continue the extracurriculars that really matter to you (and that are possible, since many sports and extracurriculars that are reliant on in-person gatherings are not possible). All of the “fluff,” the extracurriculars that students do for the sole purpose of boosting their college resume, are gone. An application year where the scores, numbers and numerous clubs are gone from students’ applications might make for more genuine applications. And considering the college admissions process is heavily criticized for being a “game,” maybe this is a good thing.
As students divert their time from studying for the SAT and attending five clubs a day, they have more time to write that research paper about receptor tyrosine kinases, practice their baton-twirling or refine their lemon meringue pie baking-technique. Sure, resumes won’t be as long, but the quality of activities will increase. Students, instead of feeling like they have to fit the mold of a perfect student with perfect scores and countless clubs, now have the opportunity to do what they like. As admissions committees review this year’s applications, perhaps they’ll enjoy the unique, personal activities applicants partake in, instead of having to sift through all the activities applicants do because they “look good.” Maybe application criteria will continue to be different, even after the pandemic.
However, it is not just admissions committees who must scale down on their evaluation factors. Students, when selecting the campuses they want to apply to, might focus more heavily on education –— professors and programs, rather than how beautiful the architecture is, where the nearest Starbucks Coffee is and how lavish the dormitories are. Without college tours, applicants’ selections of where they want to receive their next four years of education will be based on exactly that –— education. Not how tall the trees are.
The pandemic has brought the focus of college admissions exactly back where it needs to be –— where passion and character are the focus. In a system that has spiraled out of control, where being the president of ten clubs and starting nonprofits is the norm, the pandemic has brought things down to a calmer level. Ultimately, the crisis has steered college apps toward what really matters has steered college apps toward what really matters –—education.