COVID Complicates Juniors’ College Search


February/March 2021

Everyone keeps saying these are unprecedented times, and the college search is no exception.

Because of COVID, colleges are not offering on-campus tours. Much of a student’s decision to apply to a school comes from the dorms, buildings, student life, and overall vibe of the campus. However, in response colleges have improved their online resources, including virtual tours and classroom drop-ins. Though nothing can replace being on campus and seeing what life is like, virtual tours are a good way to see photos and videos of dorms, classrooms, cafeterias, and surrounding areas.

Other aspects of the college search have also gone virtual, including ways to demonstrate interest. Schools that place value in demonstrated interest have to rely on whether or not a student has signed up to be on mailing lists, attended webinars, or contacted admissions counselors. Students used to be able to sign up for mailing lists at college fairs held in schools and event venues. There were also a variety of ways for students to learn about schools they might not have heard of, meet admissions counselors, and ask questions.

During the pandemic, many colleges have decided to adopt the test-optional policy, meaning that if a student submits an SAT or ACT score, it will be considered, but no score is required. This test-optional path was unavoidable because many juniors and seniors are unable to take SATs or ACTs at all. The New York Times reported that there were “2.2 million registrations for weekend SATs in 2020… but because of the pandemic, only 900,000 such tests were taken.” Test centers regularly close, and slots are quick to fill up, especially because seniors who could not take the tests are still trying to get a spot, in addition to current juniors. For SATs taken after June of 2021, the College Board has eliminated both the optional essay and the subject tests.

Junior year is also the time to take the most rigorous course load. Colleges like to see that a student is interested in taking difficult classes and can succeed. With students being partially or fully remote, many juniors are taking rigorous courses and having to find ways to learn these new and complicated subjects than they are accustomed to learning. Colleges also look for extracurriculars, volunteer hours, and work experience, many of which have been affected by COVID restrictions. Juniors have to be creative in finding opportunities to pursue their interests and stand out in their applications.

The junior year college search is always stressful, and a global pandemic certainly has not made it any easier, but with flexibility and resourcefulness, the right college is out there for every junior.