College Essay Writing – How the Pandemic has Impacted the Path
by Julia Bruce
››Covid altered nearly every aspect of our daily lives. Even the college application process was not immune to the effects of the global pandemic. While it’s always been a stressful time for high school seniors, the last eighteen months have drastically changed the landscape of applying to college.
The lack of SAT and ACT testing availability during the pandemic forced a significant number of colleges to adopt a test-optional policy. “In the beginning, families and students had a hard time believing that it was okay to not have a score,” says Debbie Schwartz, owner of DS College Consulting LLC.
Admissions officers, however, emphasize that test-optional really means that scores will not negatively impact a student’s application. “Colleges have shifted their focus from a test-heavy, performance-driven assessment to a more holistic one,” says Lisa Dighton, a school counselor at New Fairfield High School.
Even now, as things are starting to return to normal, many schools are remaining test-optional. As to whether to take the test and submit scores or not, Nicole Pilar, a college counselor at Collegewise, recommends students and parents make a judgment call. If testing conditions allow and the student’s score is well within the school’s median range, then they should submit. “But, sometimes it’s better to put your time and energy elsewhere if it better serves your application, such as your activities and essays,” Pilar says.
Covid also impacted transcripts as high schools went to online instruction or implemented a pass/fail grading system. In light of this, Schwartz advises students to make the most of the classes offered at their high school. Pilar agrees, saying, “The transcript, evaluated in the context of what’s available at the student’s high school, has always been the most important factor.”
The Common App essay question has always been an important aspect of the application but one that doesn’t often come easily for students. “Many students have not written anything with this level of introspection before,” Pilar says. The essay should reveal something to admissions officers that is not apparent in the rest of the application. Schwartz says the essay is a chance to “Think about who they are, who they want to be, and how—meaning what college—will help them get from point A to point B.”
The pandemic has also caused colleges to launch more virtual experiences for prospective students. Virtual tours, information sessions, online interviews, and student panels have increased, thereby opening up possibilities for students that colleges might not have normally reached. Both Schwartz and Pilar suggest students take advantage of these offerings, as navigating the college applications process can be daunting. “With so much information out there, no one should feel uninformed. First and foremost, your child’s school counselor is a valuable resource,” says Dighton.
If choosing to hire an individual educational consultant to help, Schwartz cautions parents to do their homework. First, you should check to see if they are members of specific professional organizations such as the Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) and the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA), which would indicate a certain level of experience and background. “You should also inquire how many admission officers they meet with and schools they visit,” Schwartz says. Pilar adds, “Parents should set up an introductory meeting to see if the counselor is a good fit and if they have
your child’s best interest in mind.”
In the end, it’s important to remember that it’s not just about getting accepted somewhere, it’s about finding the right college for your child; one that will support their educational, personal and professional growth. n