Blog

College admissions has changed, some of it for good

By Elizabeth Jamett
Director of College Guidance

As I begin this blog post, it is May 1 and seniors are in their virtual classes wearing a shirt from the institution they will attend next year. May 1 has long been the final deposit date for most colleges and universities. I am grateful for this small sign of normalcy since nothing else about this spring is typical. If every dark cloud has a silver lining (and this is the largest dark cloud I have experienced in 25 years of counseling), perhaps there are a few positives that might spring from this upheaval. I’d like to offer three possibilities.

First: A New Appreciation for Face-to-Face Learning
For years, some have predicted the demise of in-person instruction in favor of online learning. Now, many colleges have implemented just that. It’s not going great. One of the concerns colleges have is whether parents and students are interested in paying top dollar for this kind of instruction. The answer right now seems to be no. Colleges are recognizing that online learning is, at best, a short-term solution. A new appreciation for human connection gives me hope.

Next: Innovation in the Admission Office
Given no tours, no in-person information sessions, no in-person summer orientations, it is a whole new world for admissions offices. Ironically, this could be a good thing. Campus visits are great. I’ve been on hundreds, and I enjoy them. However, they are often a passive experience and remarkably similar regardless of the institution. Counselors with whom I travel often note a sort of “tour bingo”: here is your delightful tour guide, there is the library, there is the staged dorm room, there is our brand new science center. No one sees the less-than-tidy reality of the dorm on Sunday morning, and no tour guides showcase the facilities that are in desperate need of upgrades. The lack of in-person tours means that students will need to be more active in their research, which will hopefully inspire them to dig deeper and be more thoughtful about academic programs. Better virtual tours and more online resources will also benefit those students who, because of logistics or finances, are not able to visit a school. The New York Times recently featured this article
highlighting virtual tour options.

Finally: A Decreased Reliance on Standardized Testing
This morning, a calendar alert reminded me that tomorrow was to be an SAT day. Cancelled test dates have caused anxiety for juniors. In response, an unprecedented number of admissions offices have announced they will not require standardized testing in order to apply. There is a trove of data to support the supposition that standardized testing is, at best, a weak predictor of college success. Some schools have suggested their test optional policy will be temporary. But, after next year, will at least a few of those schools evaluate the practice and decide the test optional policy serves them well in the long term? One can hope. There is no single part of the college admission process that causes greater stress for students (and parents) than standardized testing. Not many would lament its passing.

The public health crisis has highlighted the adaptability of students and institutions and the willingness of so many to put health and safety at the forefront. Students will be shaped by this in ways most of us cannot yet anticipate. The Class of 2020 continues to contend with a striking number of unknowns: Will I be on campus in the fall? Is it worth it to do virtual classes while paying full tuition? Is my current financial aid package still reasonable? As Walter Butzu and I assist the seniors in navigating this situation, I am heartened, although not surprised, by their resilience and good humor.