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Seniors Reconsider College Plans Due to COVID-19

Economic, academic, and health-related decisions pose difficulties for seniors navigating the college application process from home.


As Berkeley High School (BHS) enters its third month of distance learning, seniors are working on the college application process from home. College visits, accessibility to the College and Career Center (CCC), and standardized testing have all changed drastically due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and both seniors and the CCC are adapting to these unprecedented times. 

Throughout the spring and summer of 2020, SATs and ACTs were repeatedly postponed due to COVID-19. Inevitably, many seniors have not been able to take these standardized tests, which are traditionally a crucial part of the college application. 

In response to the pandemic, many colleges and universities have adopted a test-optional policy, meaning that they will consider a student’s application with or without a test score. Others — like the University of California school system — have gone test-blind, refusing to consider a student’s standardized test score at all. 

Sydney Henderson, a senior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), was unable to take the ACT due to repeated cancellations. During quarantine, she began working for and writing for The Tidings Blog, an international history and economics journal for teens. “Because of [those experiences], I have a lot more to write about [in my essays]. I think if I hadn’t started those activities, I’d have nothing else except sports to write about for my college applications,” Henderson explained. 

Many teachers and students consider this change a silver lining, as discussion about the equity and accuracy of standardized tests is becoming more prevalent. However, due to this change, admissions committees will place increased emphasis on essays and extracurriculars. 

“A lot of the virus has informed the way [seniors] look at out of state schools,” said David An, a college counselor in the CCC. “Not only for financial reasons, but also the uncertainty. For example, if next year starts virtually, do they want to pay out of state or private school tuition for online classes?” 

Thus, the pandemic has caused many students to reconsider their post graduation plans. 

Clio Monrad, a senior in Academic Choice (AC), described the reasoning behind her decision to take a gap year next year. “I’ve always been interested in gap years, but I was never taking it seriously until I realized that even the fall semester of 2021 could be online,” Monrad said. “And I don’t have the financial means to pay full price for a year of school without being on campus. It’s just not a financially smart decision,” she explained.

Price is not the only factor to consider. A student who has a parent or grandparent with health complications must consider the risk of attending a school with a lot of in-person contact, as even coming home for break could put that person at risk. 

“The uncertainty and fear of leaving home has increased because of the virus,” An added. “There’s definitely a lot more students being excited about applying in-state.”

Early Decision (ED), a binding agreement to attend the college if accepted, and Early Action (EA) applications are due in early November.

For many students, the decision to apply ED or EA relies largely on visiting the campus in person. “It would take a lot of a 17-year-old to say, ‘I know for sure this is my place, and if I get in I’m going,’ ” An said. As campus visits have been reduced to virtual tours and webinars, the amount of students applying ED has decreased. 

“Without those visits or in-person representative visits, it’s hard to make that call for an early decision,” added An. 

Despite the challenging times, Mary Jacobs, administrative assistant at the CCC, has hope for students. “[Colleges] say that their evaluation will be holistic in that, without the test, they are going to have to look at you as a person, not as a number,” Jacobs explained. “The seniors still have to grind at getting everything done, but throughout all of it, they are still so positive, resilient and patient.”