COVID-19 has brought many changes to the Gilmour Academy community, including the process of applying to colleges. Seniors are impacted as they eagerly and nervously apply to colleges. During this pandemic, seniors are adapting to the changes in the college application process while staying positive.
Mr. Dan DeCrane, Assistant Director of College Counseling, thinks that the biggest change is that “very many schools have created a new test-optional policy.” To be exact, there are 1,570 schools that are test score optional this year. This list can be found on www.fairtest.org. While many schools are now test-optional, some schools are not and some college majors are not.
According to Mr. DeCrane, many schools are not requiring the SAT or ACT from students because the pandemic has shut down or even slowed down test centers and students’ ability to test. In fact, many schools have extended deadlines and have created leniency on how they are accepting materials for college applications.
Director of College Counseling Ms. Tracy Stockard said, “If you test well and this can
enhance your profile, of course you should send your scores. Every student has a different situation and story so why not exhaust every option possible? If testing can help you, then you should plan to prep and take the test.”
This year, other parts of student applications may be more important or “scrutinized a little bit more than in a traditional year” as admissions teams are holistically reviewing and looking closer at the aspects of each student’s application. Some examples are their essays, letters of recommendations, activities, co-curriculars, public service, leadership roles, and supplemental essays. A student’s GPA, how rigorous of a schedule they pursued, how many AP classes they took, and their progression as a high school student remain important but are definitely being reviewed differently.
For recruitment, many colleges and universities have shifted to virtual fairs, tours and interviews. Counselors are anticipating some different acceptance rates. Schools may be more competitive with each other. Some may even be more willing to accept more students since many college students are now staying home for virtual education.
Considering these new dynamics, Mr. DeCrane said staying informed, making connections with college admission reps, and showing interest “go a long way for kids to make a good impression.”
Ms. Stockard has helped hold major events through Gilmour or the Cleveland Council of Independent Schools (CCIS). All events have been virtual, recorded, and/or on-demand for students and parents to watch. Gilmour counselors have adapted to these changes as they have had Zoom sessions with students, college application workshops, virtual visits from college admission reps, and a senior college meeting that was recorded and posted on Gilmour’s website. A virtual financial aid night through Hathaway Brown was also offered by the college counselors of the CCIS with the guest presenter being the Director of Undergraduate Financial Aid at Yale University.
The Common App and Naviance are being used differently this year, as students notify counselors where they are going to apply to colleges in a new online format through Naviance. The College Counseling Department allowed seniors to take the ACT and SAT in October during the school day. Ms. Stockard said, “Towards the end of summer, only about a quarter of our seniors had a test score. I wanted to give them options so that is why we offered in-school testing this year.” The department has also hosted virtual college essay workshops in AP and non-AP English classes.
Many colleges foresee that maybe they won’t use standardized tests as a huge component of their admission process. Colleges are interested in seeing how creative and resilient students are during these last eight or so months because of COVID.
Another aspect that has affected the college application process is college visits. Since students are not able to be physically present on many campuses, schools have created virtual college tours. Students want to know about the school’s setting, academic environment, school climate, and travel considerations. With COVID-19 protocols in place, families are weighing the value of in-state over out-of-state tuition, hybrid versus online learning, test options, and how to apply with Early Action, Early Decision, or Rolling Decision.
Molly Boyle (’21) hopes to be a nurse and is applying to direct admit nursing programs with the help of the College Counseling department. Boyle said, “I won’t lie. It’s pretty daunting to have to make a decision on where the next four years of your life will be despite having no chance to physically step foot on the campus or meet any people at [your] future school.”
Boyle thinks that in the years to come, virtual tours will allow students to look beyond their original horizons though, and allow schools to have easier access to more students across the country. Boyle feels that virtual tours have helped her personally. She was initially planning on staying close to home for college, but thanks to the virtual tours, she is now looking in the south, east coast, and midwest.
On the other hand, Ben DeMell (‘21) remains committed to Penn State for baseball. Even though he knows where his future college years will take place, he still preferred an in-person visit. DeMell has not “been able to meet with the coaches or other commits as much because of COVID.” DeMell looks forward to the day they can meet in person and start to form relationships that are so important in being a part of a team.
Even though these are unprecedented times, seniors are positively navigating the college application process. Those interviewed all said that Gilmour is doing a great job in helping them pursue their college dreams.