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College Conundrum

By Divya Gottiparthy

Due to the uncertain predicament COVID-19 has inflicted on the world, many aspects of society have drastically changed, especially in education. Venturing into taking the next steps towards pursuing a college education should be exciting. However, college applications make many students very apprehensive about applying because of expenses, ongoing family needs, and other extenuating circumstances. With the current situation at hand, adaptation had been forced upon students, teachers, and university administrations alike. Many universities have also noted a tremendous decrease in international applications over the past year, not to mention changes in college admissions directories. The Class of 2021 has marked a new era.

Both college and postsecondary enrollment in states all over the nation decreased in the fall of 2020. It has been reported that postsecondary enrollment decreased 2.7% for the fall of 2020, a drop of a whopping 345,000 students. Prospective applicants are not just concerned with student debts and cost of living, but also provisions within the household especially during a time of limited opportunity for minimum wage workers and public service employees. Some people may say that higher education becomes another roadblock rather than an opportunity for students to partake in.

Artwork by Shadia Zayer

The vast decrease in college applications has also hurt larger companies such as Common App and College Board, since their sites have been receiving far less traffic.

Additionally, there is an increase in skepticism concerning the value of a college education. However, the onset of the pandemic was not the initial catalyst for the decrease in annual enrollment within universities; this decline has been going on for a decade now. Universities are seeing a drop specifically under one demographic: low-income, first-generation applicants. This often drives students deeper into the pit of socioeconomic segregation within college campuses.

Applications for international students are more difficult considering their lack of college-preparatory experiences, which is ironically the exact reason why they may want to pursue an education abroad. Other than a heavy emphasis on online-based lectures and everything based within the web, it is not very different from obtaining a degree from a local university in their country. Universities have also noticed this steady decline in international applicants due to the fact that they are the ones paying the highest amount of money. Not only have these institutions been losing their money, but the United States economy has also lost billions of dollars due to the fact that there was a drastic decline in international applications this year.

...removing the emphasis on high standardized test scores can relieve many students of stress, especially if they are bad test-takers...

On that note, college applications and the variables being considered also have changed for this year and maybe forever. Over the past 50 years, the entire process as a whole has stayed the same, apart from the fact that it transitioned into digital interfaces over the past decade or so.

With this pandemic at hand, many college admissions offices have had to adapt and adjust. These adjustments were found in the form of going test-optional or focusing more on essays rather than GPA and statistics of the applicant.

Many would argue that this new approach to college applications has been better for students because they are viewed holistically rather than regarded as a number on a track record. An SAT score could automatically reduce their chances of admission at top-tier universities, so removing the emphasis on high standardized test scores can relieve many students of stress, especially if they are bad test-takers.

Removing that emphasis on testing also removes the unfair socioeconomic barrier that comes with standardized examinations. This can provide a chance for students to better present themselves and their character. The Common App has also opened a section specifically for students to elaborate on how the virus has affected them and their family, and how they made the best of their situation.

“The new COVID essay is really helpful because so many people faced extenuating circumstances these past few months that have affected their lives drastically. It's comforting to know that colleges will take these circumstances into account when reviewing our applications,” said senior Khushi Shah.

On the other side of things, many questions remain. Will holdovers and gap-year students increase the competition for students applying next year? Will fewer applicants make it easier for students to get into their “dream schools"? COVID has also hindered many opportunities for students.

“I think that the pandemic has definitely affected students applying to colleges, because some of us lost out on so many opportunities with college visits, interviews, open houses, etc. Many of us even had to learn the admissions process all by ourselves,” said senior Banmeet Kaur.

With everything so uncertain, it seems that stress levels have gone overboard for many seniors that are barely keeping afloat and juniors that are trying to keep themselves from drowning in the pool of homework and tests. Although there seems to be some benefits to the changes due to the virus, it may not pay off in the long run for the Class of 2021 and years to come.


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