College admissions induce anxiety amidst pandemic

September 17, 2020 — by Hannah Lee
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Senior Nikita Kadambi takes a walk with her sister to destress from a busy week.

Many seniors stress over testing and building resumes for college applications in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Senior Nikita Kadambi sighed in frustration, peering at the schoolwork and college essays she had to complete. After hours of editing a college essay, Kadambi FaceTimed a friend to recharge and maintain much-needed social interaction.

As a result of school remaining closed due to COVID-19, Kadambi and many other seniors will lose opportunities to participate in school events and experience certain clubs and extracurriculars — at least during the first semester and maybe for the whole year.

“It’s worse because we’re missing out on our last year of high school with almost no free time,” Kadambi said. “With online school you can’t really look to your classmates for help, and on top of that college applications make it a whole lot more stressful.” 

Although the Class of 2021 is missing out on many memorable senior year experiences like the Senior Sunrise or perhaps even Senior Beach Day, senior Tabitha Hulme advocated for taking a broader view.

“Personally the transition to online education has been very easy for me after spending most of the second semester and college summer programs online,” Hulme said. “Senior year being online is not ideal because we’re missing out on so many social aspects, but it’s reasonable considering the students’ safety.”

With quarantine measures in place, seniors are not only missing out on traditional events, but losing opportunities to stand out for college admissions.

Because most colleges are now test-optional, and multiple extracurricular activities and sports have been postponed or canceled, seniors are struggling to show colleges their dedication to subjects for all four years of high school. As with so much of the nation and the world, their lives are on hold, making the college admissions process seem far more daunting for many. 

Maintaining a high GPA, performing on standardized tests and participating in a series of distinguished extracurriculars are already challenging for many students, but now the Class of 2021 has been forced to consider factors years it didn’t have to contemplate throughout the admissions process.

Senior Nikita Kadambi is the captain of the Color Guard, but as a result to COVID-19, her California Color Guard Circuit Championship (CCGC) in March was canceled. 

“I honestly felt like my world was ending,” Kadambi said. “Guard is my literal life and not being able to go to the competition was heartbreaking almost.” 

Despite these downsides, Kadambi said that there are some perks to being in quarantine. She has more freedom to pace her life and FaceTimes her friends between classes to recreate socializing during school.  

Hulme has been trying to search for contentment amid her hectic schedule.

“The structure of classes is convenient because I’m able to work on college applications, but this definitely is not how I expected my senior year to look like,” Hulme said. “I do think that there are advantages for seniors who have a lot on their plates right now and are needing more leniency in school structure and expectations.”

While time is certainly a benefit for busy seniors, Hulme said that it’s hard to stay positive when it comes to envisioning what her future years will look like due to uncertainty in college applications.

“There has been a lot of reconsideration of what the future will look like for seniors — I’ve talked to my family about taking a gap year to work and save money for school or live in a different country for a few months, which I would have never considered before,” Hulme said. “I know a lot of upperclassmen initially wished that they were underclassmen since they were less impacted when it came to college.”

Prior to the pandemic, Hulme was never contemplated taking a gap year after high school. But with deferral rates for the college Class of 2024 skyrocketing, the Class of 2021 now has to compete with a bigger pool of students when they are admitted as Class of 2025.

Because of the pandemic, about 20 percent of Harvard and Yale University students are not re-enrolling at the schools this fall semester. The Harvard Crimson noted that 5,231 students intend to enroll for the fall semester while 6,755 enrolled in 2019, approximately a 22 percent drop. 

Yale Daily News reported that fall enrollment is low among different grade levels; for instance, only 70 percent of sophomores will be taking online classes this fall. Thus, enrollments will be larger when students now on leave return to campus. 

To cause less panic for both stressed students and parents, the College Board plans to extend score deadlines for early action and early decision applications to give students more time to take the tests and send their scores. 

“It’s our last year of high school, and we are expected to send colleges our test scores despite being in a global pandemic,” Kadambi said. “Colleges will take into consideration whether we send out scores, so I feel pressured to take it again even though I don’t want to put my family at risk by going to a testing center.”

Although there is still a chance that colleges may waive certain requirements during evaluations, individuals who started prepping ahead of time most likely have taken care of the issues that arose during the pandemic, causing more anxiety for seniors who haven’t.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, many students are re-evaluating their fall semester plans, including the decision to pay hefty tuitions or take out big loans.  

A CollegeXpress survey found that nearly 52 percent of students are significantly more concerned about paying tuition since the outbreak while almost 95 percent of parents expressed great concerns. 

“At this time, it seems unrealistic to spend up to $75,000 on education when you can’t get the full experience and utilize certain facilities and programs,” Hulme said.

Normally, students take gap years to travel, conduct research, volunteer or work to save money for college; now, however, many students’ concerns lie in the risk of contracting COVID-19.

University Health Services stated that at UC Berkeley, a COVID-19 outbreak traced back to Greek house parties spiked the number of cases to 47 in one week. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also announced on Aug. 19 that 31 percent of students had tested positive for the virus within its first week of reopening, causing the school to shut down. The University of Alabama reported more than 560 new cases less than a week after classes began despite ambitious testing protocols.  

In spite of the new worries seniors have to cope with through college admissions, Hulme said that her list of colleges she plans to apply to has not been affected by COVID-19. 

“I definitely think that college is an important next step and I wouldn’t want something to stand in the way of me making the best choice for my well-being and prosperity,” Hulme said. 

Although the COVID-19 crisis may stand in the way of near-future plans for seniors, Hulme and many others are persevering to go down their original path of long term goals.

Kadambi and Hulme may be experiencing a senior year far from what they imagined, but they are trying to make their way through their first year as positively as they can.

“I may be missing out on a lot of social aspects and getting the full experience of the senior year I imagined, but I'm planning to stay as positive as I can this semester,” Hulme said. “Until it’s all over I plan to continue focusing on my college applications and focus on what my next steps in my future are.”


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