Applying to college usually comes with a degree of uncertainty, but this year’s applicants face an additional question: What should you do if a pandemic has restricted your college applications?
Many extracurricular activities, including sports and clubs, have not been able to continue during the pandemic. And many school districts across the country, recognizing the challenges the pandemic has brought, offered students the option of not receiving grades for the classes they were taking.
This choice has resulted in some students having «pass» or «credit» or «fail» or «no credits» rather than having actual grades on their transcripts.
College admissions officers were prepared for these changes before the current admissions cycle began, says David Hawkins, chief education and policy officer at the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
“Admissions officers understand the challenges these students faced because they had their own experiences,” says Hawkins. «They were locked up just like the students.»
So what are colleges looking for now?
As applications have changed, so has what admissions officers look for.
A report card stuffed with «pass» or «credit» grades won’t count towards you, admissions officials say. What’s taken into account are the letter grades that appear on your transcript along with the courses you took, says Steve Robinson, senior associate vice president of enrollment management at the University of Utah.
«I think a lot of schools look at the academic rigor of what a student has attempted,» says Robinson. “In a rural high school, there might not be that many [Advanced Placement] Opportunities, or none, but what I can say is that the students took everything that high school offered academically — they really tried, even if they did [have pass grades].”
With the classification, the test requirements have also changed. Even before the pandemic, colleges began submitting standardized test scores, such as B. from ACT and SAT, to make optional. The practice spread to more schools due to the difficulties the pandemic has brought.
Extracurricular activities also don’t look the same as they did before the pandemic. Hawkins says that in some cases, how students spend their free time during the pandemic is replacing the out-of-school part of an application, at least in the eyes of admissions officials.
Some applications, including the Shared app — a standardized college application accepted at around 900 schools — can provide space to write about your experiences during the pandemic, e.g. For example, about a difficulty you faced or a new skill you learned.
«The other thing I’ve heard from admissions officials is that they’ve been pleasantly surprised, and in some cases amazed, at what students have continued to do even during lockdown,» Hawkins says.
Your best application plays to your strengths
With the option to complete specific essays or submit test scores, a meaningful application best reflects what you’ve accomplished.
If you have completed the ACT or SAT and received a score that supports your application, submit it to the college you are applying to. But if you didn’t get a score you want to include with your application, don’t include it, says Christine Harper, associate vice president for student success and chief enrollment officer at the University of Kentucky.
«We’re going to use whatever will benefit the students the most,» says Harper. With some applications now optional, students should look back on everything they’ve done and present the best version of themselves to a college, Harper adds.
Overall, the pandemic has forced college admissions officials to reevaluate their expectations of students, especially as high school students have had differential access to their usual activities, says Keri Risic, interim executive director for admissions at the University of Minnesota.
Any changes to these activities will not be seen as negative, Risic adds. If you have something to share about your application that provides insight into your experience with the pandemic, admissions officers want to know.
Ultimately, while there are adjustments students can make to stand out in the application pool, the overwhelming message from admissions officers to prospective students is to worry less.
«Students should have some peace of mind because colleges totally understand their position,» says Hawkins. «Give you some mercy.»
This article was written by NerdWallet and originally published by The Associated Press.