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    • Prairie Resch ’21 watches virtual tours on YouTube.

Seniors Apply to College Amidst Covid-19

Anjali Subramanian ’22 News Editor
With college campuses shut down and limited standardized testing opportunities, the college application process has been upended by Covid-19.
Virtual tours, consisting of pictures and 360-degree videos, have replaced in-person campus visits. Isabel Melchinger ’21 details the challenges stemming from virtual tours: “It’s really hard to get the feel of colleges without physically being on campus.” Milan Yorke ’21 agrees: “I think that the feeling you get stepping onto a campus for the first time is everything. Without that, it’s kind of like taking a shot in the dark.” Comparing in-person tours to virtual tours, Madison Mettler ’21 says, “On the few in-person visits I did go on before schools started shutting down, I decided which schools I liked based on if I could really see myself there, and you can’t do that online.”

The lack of students in virtual tours also poses a challenge to seniors. Chase Harrison ’21 explains, “[The virtual tours] lack any sort of human component and ability to see how and where students gather.” Yash Thakur ’21 shares sentiments similar to Harrison’s, saying that virtual tours “show you what [colleges] want you to see.” Thakur elaborates, “You aren’t able to see students on campus and get the actual vibe of the college.” Drew Williams ’21 adds, “Virtual tours don’t replicate the experience of a community.” Harrison touches on the difficulties in visualizing college campus layouts from virtual tours: “It was super hard to tell where things are in relation to each other.” Williams explains, “It is hard for colleges to make huge distinctions when they are limited to 360 cameras.” Abigail Fossati ’21 notes that the virtual tours were “difficult to follow without physically walking around campus.”

Along with campus tours, information sessions have also moved online. These typically feature an admissions officer and current student to speak to prospective applicants. Yorke thinks virtual information sessions are “robotic.” She explains, “If there aren’t students leading it through Zoom, I get lost in the statistics.” Prairie Resch ’21 feels that “it’s pretty much impossible to gauge the tenor of a school when all you get is one admissions counselor and maybe a current student staring at a screen.” Lola Panagos ’21 says that all sessions “feel the same and cover the same topics: holistic review, truly test-optional, a lot of clubs, and unsure of the future.”

Unlike most of her peers, Alexis Chang ’21 prefers virtual information sessions over in-person because she “can sit and take notes and [her] legs don’t hurt from walking around.” Evan Alfandre ’21 also likes the virtual model because “the admissions officers and students were able to go through a slideshow and talk about the school as they normally do.”

Without being able to attend in-person tours and information sessions to facilitate choosing which colleges to apply to, seniors researched colleges on their own. David Zhou ’21 looked for colleges that “have a strong department for [his prospective] major” and “undergraduate research opportunities.” Melchinger decided which colleges to apply to based on “reputation.” Yorke says she has “a list [of colleges] lined up based on where [she] wants to live and if they have [her] major. From there it’s just a guessing game.”

Several seniors turned to social media to learn more about their chosen colleges. Geneva Cunningham ’21 used YouTube and searched “day in the life of a (name of college) student.” Cunningham believes those videos “were more interesting and true to the college” than virtual tours. Juliette Henderson ’21 used “forums, Reddit, [and] YouTube” to “grasp how people felt at each college.” She explains: “I felt I could understand the general community better by seeing personal anecdotes from staff and students.”

Some seniors contacted alumni or admissions officers of colleges. Fossati “asked questions [of] admissions officers who visited Hopkins virtually.” Thakur ’21 “talked to alumni from colleges or students who [he] knows go there and asked them what they honestly thought of their college.” Thakur notes that he got “some pretty honest answers” to his questions.

Another major Covid-19-related barrier to the typical college application process includes the cancellation of most spring and summer SAT and ACT tests. Chang explains how this affected her: “I had planned to take the ACT in April of my Junior year so I could get it out of the way as soon as possible. That way, when fall came, I could just focus on my Common Application and college applications.” Because of Covid-19, Chang “had to take [her] ACT in September and October.” Chang continues, “Basically I had to study for my ACTs while doing my college applications and it was just a lot.” Craigin Maloney ’21 was also impacted by the cancellation of ACT exams: “I didn’t do great on my first ACT and I was trying to get recruited for a sport, so I was submitting early materials and couldn’t retake [the ACT] because of Covid-19.”

To accommodate students unable to take the SAT and ACT, hundreds of colleges became test-optional for the 2020-2021 year. Chang, like most Hopkins seniors, likes having the option to decide if she wants to submit her standardized test scores: “I can use my scores for the schools where it will look good and then I don’t need to [send my scores] where they don’t look as good.” Fossatti thinks test-optional policies “remove most stress while still allowing those able to take the tests to show their scores.” Yorke likes test-optional policies because she believes that “standardized testing is pretty dumb.” She continues, “Now students will actually get judged on what matters rather than a single test.”

Though Covid-19 gave rise to several challenges in the college application process, some seniors focused on the positives. Mettler notes that “a lot of students around the world don’t have the money to visit schools and they already have to rely on online resources.” She says, “Although this situation is terrible, it really puts our privilege into perspective, and thankfully provides more online resources for those who cannot visit schools because of financial reasons.” Fossati brings attention to the benefits of quarantine: “While many things have been more difficult than usual, having to remain at home more often certainly gave more time for writing college supplements!”
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