Covid-19 has altered so much of everyday life: work, play, and school. Being a high school senior, or a parent of one, must be very tough. As bad as life was for the class of 2020, the class of 2021 has an added element.
The pandemic shut down Massachusetts last March. The seniors of 2020 were robbed of their senior spring, the prom, spoons, all night grad, skip days etc. With the exception of accepted student days, though, their college admissions experience was for the most part complete by the time the shutdowns began. The tests, letters of recommendations, the applications, the campus visits, the interviews were done. Uncertain for sure but the nuts and bolts of applying for college were pretty much the same.
The same cannot be said for members of the class of 2021. How one researches and applies to college this year is completely changed.
The college admission process has always had a consistent calendar.
- Fall of junior year: PSAT, extracurriculars, etc.
- Spring of junior year: SATs, letter of recommendation requests, AP Tests, college visits, college fairs etc.
- Fall of senior year: applications, essays, SATs again, interviews.
- Spring of senior year: deciding, FAFSA, CSS forms, scholarship applications, accepted student days etc.
- Finally, make a decision, put down a deposit, and buy a t-shirt.
All of that has been affected by the pandemic. Added is the worry about the economy and other financial concerns. Another factor is how colleges were handling this past fall. How are their Covid-19 numbers? What is campus life like at your potential school in a pandemic?
In terms of admissions, the schools themselves are adapting the way they assess applicants. Many schools are going test-optional, or even test blind. But what does that mean? What Does “Test-Optional” Mean Anyway? Link for Counselors – April 2020
For students hoping to play a sport in college, how can you get recruited?
Then, just to make things interesting, there is a new concern as to the financial viability of some schools. If a school is in financial trouble (a lot of schools are), does it make sense to even include it on your list of options?
With 89 percent of Bedford High School graduates making post-secondary educational plans, this is a subject near and dear to our readers.
With these questions and so many more, we’ve decided to start a new series on college admissions. As the publisher of High School Counselor Week for 15 years, I have learned a lot about the process. We will also be picking the brains of Jen Rosier of PrepU here in Bedford as well as Alicia Linsey, Director of Counseling at Bedford High School and other experts.
First up: ADMISSIONS TESTING
Here is a piece from the PBS NewsHour on how colleges are changing during the pandemic, especially related to testing.
SATs, ACTs, PSAT’s, AP exams are/were at one time a very important element of college admissions. One of the first steps in creating a college list was to get your SAT scores and then see what colleges you should be looking at based on those scores. That’s a bit of an oversimplification but in general, it was a good place to start.
With the pandemic, the world of standardized testing has been greatly impacted. With schools being closed a lot of the testing centers are not available to administer the exams. As a result, more and more schools are going test-optional, eliminating the requirement to submit your scores. Currently, there are 1450 schools listed as test-optional, with many more sure to follow.
The PSAT also has been greatly affected by the pandemic. The PSAT is traditionally administered in October of a student’s junior year. In the fall of 2020, two million fewer students took the test. The College Board, which administers the SAT, PSAT, and AP tests, added a second PSAT just this past Tuesday, January 26.
Even as more and more schools are going “test-optional” it is important to remember that the SAT and ACT scores are used for more than just admissions. The PSAT is the sole criteria for the National Merit Scholarship. Other schools use the SAT and ACT score to award merit scholarships. There is more about this in a recent Politico article:
Even before the pandemic, these admissions tests were already under scrutiny and becoming more controversial. Many argue that the tests are a much better indicator of the test-takers’ economic situation than of their intelligence. Tutors, test prep classes, the ability to take the test multiple times, all skew the numbers to the more wealthy students. Many colleges were moving away from requiring these tests even before the pandemic. The pandemic has just accelerated this trend.
Another big move happened last week as the College Board announced it will phase out the SAT subject tests and an optional essay.
College Board is scrapping SAT’s optional essay and subject tests Washington Post – Jan 19, 2021
The College Board said the pandemic had just sped up refinement of a plan to streamline their operation.
We asked Alicia Linsey, head of counseling at Bedford High School, and also Jen Rosier from PrepU what we’re seeing here in Bedford and what they want parents and kids to know about testing in this environment.
Alicia Linsey of the BHS counseling office, on testing
“A strong college application tells a student’s story. College admissions representatives piece together the narrative from the separate parts of the application, through the application review, to see if the student is a good fit for their school. We encourage students to look at each part of the college application as an opportunity to tell another part of their story. For some students that includes standardized tests.
“In light of testing obstacles created by Covid-19 more than half of all four year colleges went “test-optional” for Fall 2021. The barriers presented by the pandemic have put a spotlight on the inequities of standardized testing and served as a catalyst for colleges to review their admissions practices. Navigating this shifting landscape can be confusing for students. If, and when, they should test is complicated – there is not a one-size-fits-all answer.
“We always advise students to have a conversation with their counselor. Many students who apply to a four-year institution will take the SAT or ACT. Counselors can make specific recommendations about which test and help a student design a test prep plan.
“Both the SAT and ACT are curriculum-based tests and a student’s performance correlates with age, maturity, and time spent in school. Students generally reach their peak score in the spring of junior year or early fall of senior year which guides our recommendations.
“A test-optional policy creates more options for students, leaving the decision to them as to whether or not they want to send scores to a school. With test-optional and test-flexible policies, students are empowered to decide whether or not their test results are an accurate representation of their academic ability and potential.
“As students prepare their application, to tell their unique story, we encourage them to be purposeful in crafting their candidacy. This leaves them with more choice and control over how they present their strengths and contributions to the admissions team.
About Alicia Linsey: Alicia Linsey is the Pre-K-12 Director of Counseling for Bedford Public Schools. Alicia has worked in school and college counseling for more than 20 years, with a special focus on student mental health. She serves on the National College Fair Committee and as Chair of the Boston National College Fair for the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). She holds a MA in Counseling Psychology from Boston College and a College Counseling Certification from UCLA. Alicia was an advisory board member for the college resource book, “The Secrets to Picking a College (And Getting In!),” published in October 2015.
Jen Rosier of PrepU, regarding testing
“I really feel for the current seniors and juniors and their families who are trying to navigate the college admissions process during the pandemic. On top of financial stressors that many families are experiencing, we have the uncertainty of standardized testing and test-optional policies to contend with, leaving so many students questioning their best paths.
“The new test-optional policies of many institutions are in many ways a good thing for students and families, as these policies take a small step toward leveling out access and inequities and encouraging admissions committees to look beyond the numbers to see each student’s complete potential. And, I am particularly happy about the recent elimination of SAT Subject Tests, as this decision eliminates unnecessary stress and additional testing for students!
“So here’s my advice for students: It is always important to note that scores have always been just one piece of the college admissions puzzle, and the admissions process is your chance to highlight your passions and strengths. I agree with Alicia- your application is your chance to tell your story- and if that story includes strong test scores – or scores that meet or exceed the mean accepted scores for your target schools- they can be an asset in your application. Try to think about the current test-optional policies as empowering; for those schools that retain these test-optional policies for the class of 2022 and beyond, you have the power to choose whether to submit your scores or not! You’re in the driver’s seat!
“In general, I think most college-bound students, but not all, should give SATs or ACTs their best shot, since scores can be an asset in both admission and scholarships, and since we don’t know for sure which schools will retain this year’s test-optional policies. That said, every student should work with a trusted resource such as a guidance counselor or professional advisor to map out an individual plan!
“A few more thoughts:
“Grades will always be most important and should always be your priority.
“If you have extra time on your hands during the pandemic, pursue your own projects! Try something new, take an online course, research something that interests you. These things will be cool stories to tell in your applications!
“Prepare for your SATs or ACTs if that makes sense for you.
“If you are taking APs, put your best effort in preparing for these exams, as they may be more important this year.
“Remember, you are shopping for your schools just as much as schools are shopping for students. Focus on the places where you will be happy and successful! “
About Jennifer Rosier: Founder of PrepU Admissions and Test Prep in Bedford. Jen and the team have been helping students navigate college admissions and standardized exams for 25 years. Proud mom of 4 BHS grads.
Next Up, Part II: College Visits and College Fairs in a Pandemic