Class of 2022 will face a unique set of difficulties with college applications

March 28, 2021 — by Lihi Shoshani

Usually, the recommendation letter process for AP Environmental Science and Biology teacher Kristen Thomson is simple: Students come up to her desk and ask her for one. Before writing it, she thinks of their contributions in class, their learning and their overall attitude and personality — they are a rounded, full person to her since they shared hours in the classroom together and sometimes on field trips. 

However, having been in remote learning for a year, she realizes this normally straightforward procedure has become much more complicated. For the Class of 2022, never meeting their junior year teachers in person adds to the difficulty of an already complex application process.

“If juniors asked me to write their letters of rec, I might have to say no because if I can't picture your face, I think it's gonna be a lot harder for me to write a letter of rec. It makes me realize how much harder this is going to be next year,” Thomson said.

English 11H and MAP teacher Natasha Ritchie said juniors should decide which teachers are best to ask for letters of recommendation having only been online with their junior teachers; their sophomore teachers knew them in person for most of last year, and they could also ask their senior-year teachers. However, her process for writing these letters hasn’t changed during the pandemic.

“I always need to feel like I somewhat know a student in order to write their college letter, which is commentary on their skills, their work ethic and their overall citizenship. This year will be the same,” Ritchie said. 

For the Class of 2021, senior Wilson Fung said his application process remained the same despite the year-long quarantine.

Fung had his college list and his ACT score prior to last March, so his experience didn’t differ greatly from the norm. He, however, said the only change seniors experienced was applying to more colleges because they had more time to spend on college apps.

Although Fung is submitting his College Board scores, many colleges, including all the Ivy Leagues and UCs, have made submitting SAT or ACT scores optional for the class of 2021 — nothing has been decided yet for the 2021-2022 school year. 

One of the main ways the Class of 2021 has been affected by the pandemic is the sudden increase in the number of applications: Harvard has 42 percent more applicants than in 2020, causing its admission decisions release date to be delayed by over a week, as well as a “record-high number of early applicants and a record-low acceptance rate.” UC Berkely had a 28 percent increase in its number of applicants this year compared to last.

Another change the upperclassmen will face this year occurred on Jan. 19 when College Board announced that it would be dropping the essay portion of the SAT as well as SAT Subject Tests, acknowledging that the pandemic “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce the demands on students.’”

Thomson said the decreased emphasis on standardized tests will only cause more incentive for students to find different ways to stand out.

“It's more what would you invent, which allows you to figure out your own interests,” she said. “Instead of looking for things that make you like everybody else, you're following your own passion versus doing the generic ‘I'm in a sport, I'm in a club, I volunteer here all the time.’” 

Junior Jocelyn Yang worries about having fewer extracurricular activities since she was supposed to go to summer school and volunteer at programs, yet her plans were canceled due to COVID, affecting her feelings of preparedness for the college application process. 

For her part, Ritchie advised students to take a broader, more global perspective, saying, “I think that the worst thing students can do is lament their loss and feel like they are somehow behind. Behind who? We just lived through a pandemic. My advice is for students to focus on what they learned and what has been important to them this last year.” 

Thomson said juniors might have fewer recent experiences to write about for their applications, which isn’t necessarily bad because everyone's in the same boat, forcing them to be a little bit more inventive. 

Regardless of everyone being “in the same boat,” many juniors have taken it upon themselves to stand out from their fellow classmates with their SAT scores, with juniors like Derek Hsu and Kavya Narayan traveling to Oregon in order to attend an open testing site. 

It seems the Class of 2022 will be facing an even more perplexing experience with letters of recommendation, figuring out which colleges to apply to since they won’t be able to visit college campuses any time soon and being unable to mitigate  their stress levels with having less extracurriculars than normal.

“I'm anticipating a lot of stress and tiredness, so I’m not super excited about it,” Yang said. “I am nervous about whether or not I'll be able to be accepted into a ‘good’ college if it is only just grades and GPA [that colleges see]; it would feel a little unfair since Saratoga is a hard school and my grades may not actually reflect me.”

 

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