There was widespread sympathy for the Class of 2020 this past spring when the pandemic put an end to conventional graduation ceremonies. For the Class of 2021, COVID-19 hit just as they were beginning the college application process.
There would be no spring or summer SAT for Jacqueline Munis and Devon Mooring, both seniors at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pa. And forget about college tours. “My plan was to go during spring break,” says Munis. “I was applying to schools in the U.K., so I was planning to go there in May.”
Instead, visits are happening virtually—and at least one tour didn’t go so well for Lower Merion’s Claire Sun. “It was very jarring,” she says. “I didn’t like the interface, and it was hard to move around the campus. I didn’t feel like I was actually experiencing the environment. After that, I lost interest entirely.”
For Munis, the virtual experience started off rocky but soon improved. “As time went on, they sort of figured out how to do it,” she says. “A lot of the tours are dedicated to students answering questions from the audience. It feels like you’re hearing about someone’s experience.”
For Mooring, virtual tours have had definite benefits. “I probably toured more schools online than I would have if I toured in person—just because they’re so accessible,” he says.
In light of the pandemic, most colleges made standardized testing scores optional. But many seniors took the SAT and ACT anyway. “My reach school is extremely competitive,” says Sun. “My rationale is, ‘If you can do it to stand out, why not?’” After multiple cancellations, Mooring finally took the SAT in October. Munis had her own issues. “If I’d waited until September, it would’ve been too late for my deadline, so I was really concerned about my August test,” she says. “I thought it would be canceled.”
Fortunately, Munis just made her deadline. I do think having those test scores is going to make you look better,” she says.
As for Mooring, he’s more than a little skeptical of the whole test-optional scenario. “Everyone talks about your SAT score when you apply to schools, so it’s clear that’s a metric schools heavily base their admissions upon,” he says. “Them saying. ‘Oh it’s fine,’ is really confusing and hard to entirely believe.”
With limited in-person access to teachers, students have to hope that those making recommendations check their email frequently to make sure deadlines are met and necessary documents are complete. “I sent both of my recommenders emails, and they haven’t responded,” says Sun. “I’m not able to pop into their classroom to force them to check, and double emailing feels like nagging.”
Mooring can relate. “It adds a little bit of stress to it,” he says.
With COVID impacting everyone’s way of life, students have been forced to reassess their priorities. Sun’s father is a physician at a local hospital. “I remember there was one moment when my dad came home, and we had a COVID-scare,” Sun says. “I realized I couldn’t keep up with the workload I wanted to achieve if I also wanted to take care of myself.”
Munis chose to stay home during her first semester while most of her friends were at school. “It’s definitely affected me,” she says. “But staying safe and keeping my family safe is the priority.”
Davis Giangiulio is currently a senior at Lower Merion High School in Ardmore, Pa.