College Application Advice Amidst the Pandemic

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By SIVARAGHA BUDDANA ‘22, MANINDER DHESI ‘22, NIMISHA KUMAR ‘22

With the rise of COVID-19 cases, many activities transformed to fit newfound social distancing requirements. While many hoped that schooling would revert to an in-person layout by the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, COVID-19 continues to affect the many activities students partake in. Among this long list of activities is the college admissions process. With the lacking availability of college tours and general college guidance due to this pandemic, seniors faced several obstacles in their newly-adjusted application processes this year. However, with the stresses of COVID-19, many colleges allowed optional test-taking and college essays, allowing for a fraction of ease in the chaos of this year’s college admissions.

Through their experience with the college admissions process this year, many seniors gathered aspects of this process that they felt were the most beneficial to them. “I’ve met my counselor more times this year than I ever have in the past three years,” said Neha Thakur ‘21, a student at Edison High School.  Many students are reaching out more to the EHS counselors for help on their applications during the pandemic because of virtual college tours and different application methods.

“Do not procrastinate on your college applications, and ask friends or teachers for help if you need to,” said Nimisha Pant ‘21. Turning in applications and other documents on time is especially essential to many seniors now, since going in-person might not be an option. “Apply to scholarships early and ask for teacher recommendations early,” Pant said.  By doing this, one can avoid stress near the due date for an application. Despite the fact that COVID-19 completely transformed the college admissions process, students are finding ways that can help with the anxiety that comes with applying to colleges. 

In addition, Edison High School counselors continue to play a significant role in guiding seniors in their college admissions. “Utilize your resources! We have a super-knowledgeable school counseling department, two college counselors, and tons of events throughout high school for you to learn about the process,” said Laurie Sieminski, college counselor at Edison High School. “There are also tons of people in your circles who can help with different pieces of the application.  The sooner you ask for help, the better we can all assist you!”

Even with virtual college processes, college counselors still believe that starting early and reaching out—a task now increasingly difficult with a virtual setting—both remain significant factors in ensuring an efficient application process. “Start activities early in high school,” said Ms. Sieminski. “Not so they ‘look good’ on your application, but so you experience a variety of things that helps you learn about your strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, what makes you ‘tick.’ These activities often help decide your career path.” In other words, starting early not only applies to applications, but even activities in your high school career.

However, starting early does not equate to choosing your major. “Don’t feel pressured to decide what you want to major in now,” said Eleanor Agmana, college counselor at Edison High School. “College is an opportunity to discover your interests and who you are as an individual. Many students enter college ‘knowing’ what they want to major in and end up changing their minds once they start taking college courses.” While early preparations are beneficial, college counselors state that knowing your preferred major is not as significant as undecided seniors may believe.

During the pandemic, the college admissions process changed drastically. Virtual college tours are now the popularized choice, since in-person college tours are canceled. Thus, both current seniors and juniors must do most of their college research online. However, virtual tours are not the only source of college research out there. Additional tools in this endeavor are the first-hand accounts of current college freshmen. Mukund Ramakrishnan ’20, a graduate of J.P. Stevens High School, is currently a freshman at Rutgers University, majoring in Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Honors Academy. “I love Rutgers so much! My classes are tough and fulfilling, the professors go out of their way to help you out, and there are seemingly endless resources available for students who want to go to grad school, get a job right after graduation, or both!” Ramakrishnan said. While seniors may feel worried about the independence that coincides with the viewpoint of college, Ramakrishnan assures that he was able to receive endless support. Furthermore, prospective students must also consider their choice colleges have the extracurricular activities and organizations that they are interested in. “The music and arts program here is phenomenal as well,” Ramakrishnan said. “I love to sing—at Rutgers I’m getting a choir experience beyond anything I’ve imagined, as well as solid music theory classes and free voice lessons that count for credit!”

Ultimately, while the revised college admissions process may seem daunting to current seniors, both college counselors and Ramakrishnan believe that college experience itself will make this process worthwhile. Although this process may be unlike the years prior, many resources can still serve to be beneficial for seniors applying this year. 

Photo Credit: Alyson Zhang ’22