COVID-19 and the Road to College

Delia Rune, Staff Writer

COVID-19 has led many universities to choose to host their college visits virtually and remain test optional. According to the Education Advisory Board, high school seniors viewed virtual college tours almost 230% more during 2020 than in 2019. 

However, with colleges and schools easing COVID-19 restrictions, LASA is offering in-person visits where college representatives come to LASA’s college center and present information on their respective schools. Senior Anya Kureshi said in-person visits can give a better sense of the college, but virtual visits are often more intimate. 

“I liked the in-person visits,” Kureshi said, “but there was one virtual visit where I was the only person there which was nice.”

Students who preferred LASA’s in-person visits over virtual sessions spoke of the connection they were able to make with an admissions officer during face-to-face meetings. Senior Molly Rhode said being in person allows students to make a longer lasting impression on college representatives, which students hope can help them have a better chance in the admission process. 

“It’s just easier to talk to them in-person,” Rhode said, “and it’s easier for the admissions officers to remember you or connect.”

College counselors at LASA have also observed the benefits of in-person visits. College counselor Vyasar Ganesan said that despite being slightly more attended, face-to-face conversations still offer better opportunities to relate to admission counselors.

“I think in-person is way better,” Ganesan said. “There’s no doubt about it. In an in-person visit, you get to see your admission counselor. You get to have a real conversation with them. It’s less PowerPoint and more one-on-one conversations.” 

Ganesan also said that students have liked LASA’s in-person visits more than virtual visits because virtual college visits serve as a rather unpleasant reminder of last year, when everything was conducted virtually. He said that a virtual Zoom setting can make the college visits less enjoyable for students.

“Online settings are not quite the same,” Ganesan said. “We’re sick and tired of Zoom. We did a whole year of it. Let’s be done with it.” 

According to senior Veronica Engle, since many students were not able to travel to colleges last year, college visits at school are even more important this fall. For some students, this will be the only opportunity they have to hear about the school from a representative before applying.

“Last year with COVID and being online, I didn’t do many college visits,” Engle said. “And I haven’t done many college tours this year because COVID has just made traveling and visiting schools a little harder.” 

The lack of in-person tours on college campuses last year has led to an increase in attendees at LASA college visits this year, according to Ganesan. LASA college counselors have been surprised to see a large jump in the number of students getting involved in college visits. 

“I would say I’ve seen more students attending the visits than previously since students are so excited to be back in-person,” Ganesan said. “Everyone wants to make this year feel more normal.”

Even the junior class is eager to start learning about their options after graduation, according to Ganesan. He said that this spike in interaction might be driven by a desire to return to the normalcy of junior year college preparation. 

“The junior class has been extremely involved and active,” Ganesan said. “I would say on any average visit there’s at least one junior there, and on bigger visits, at least a third to half of the people are juniors. So the juniors have definitely been a driving force as to why things are bigger this year.”

But virtual college visits are not the only hold-overs from the beginning of the pandemic. One college trend that has continued is the shift schools have made to being test optional. At first, many universities made submitting SAT or ACT scores optional to accommodate students who could not take the SAT or ACT due to COVID-19 restrictions. Now, some universities are deciding to leave this change in place for good. For students like senior Sedona Heaney, who don’t like taking standardized tests, this is a relief. 

“The only school I applied to without test scores is Notre Dame because my scores are lower than their average,” Heaney said. “I think I definitely prefer the test optional because I have a good resume and a good GPA, and the test scores are the only thing that are hurting me.”

Critics of the SAT and ACT argue that it is not a fair way to evaluate students. Affluent parents can put their children in private tutoring or prep courses to improve their scores, a resource that isn’t always available to low-income families.

“I don’t think everyone has an equal opportunity to score well on the SAT,” Heaney said. “I really wish it wasn’t a thing because it’s one test that’s determining whether we’ll get into a good college.”

Though some students prefer to go without ACT or SAT scores this year, it remains to be seen whether next year’s seniors will receive the same SAT-optional choice when applying to college.

COVID-19 safety precautions changed many aspects of college applications, but this year, colleges are returning to some aspects of pre-pandemic applications and students, like Heaney, look forward to returning to normalcy.