Applying to college amid pandemic brings challenges


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — High school students continue to face unique struggles of life during the pandemic, making the college application process even more daunting.

While applying to college has always been stressful, it’s a whole different beast now due to COVID-19.

John Ambrose, Michigan State University’s director of undergraduate admissions, says that experts like him are here to help. They are also undergoing major changes.

“Just relax. COVID has impacted everything,” Ambrose said.

He says admissions experts have to find new ways to evaluate students, especially as more than half of colleges and universities have become test-optional. That means ACT or SAT scores are no longer a requirement due to canceling or limiting capacity at testing sites.

“Most of us have a holistic review process now, so grades are really important. Test scores are really important, so that’s part of the pivot challenge that universities had when we decided test-optional — what kind of information would you choose to use,” Ambrose said.

Without test scores, a students’ report card becomes more important than ever.

While virtual learning has caused concern about the value of students’ education, MSU has actually seen a boost in overall GPA among the bottom fifth percentile of its applicant pool.

But for those that have had grades slip due to these turbulent times, Ambrose says it’s important to address that in the application.

“If there is anything in your application you see as a particular challenge, especially if it was outside of your control, that comment box is your opportunity to share what your circumstances may have been to the committee,” he said.

The common application, which allows students to apply to multiple institutions at the same time, added a space for students to explain how the pandemic has affected them.

Also, since the pandemic has disrupted just about every extracurricular activity, students are finding new ways to show colleges their resilient personalities.

“Many of us saw the articles or the news stories about (their) athletic team who were jumping in to help out their community and do good. Those are the kinds of things that will make a difference,” he said. “It’s not necessarily what the students do that matters in the application review, it’s showing us that you do some things that make sense for supporting your community.”

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