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Incoming freshmen wonder when to go to campus; high schoolers don't know how they'll pick a school

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Posted at 6:14 PM, Apr 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-22 15:23:38-04

Normally, spring break and summer is the time for high school students to get a better idea for what schools they want to apply to while graduating seniors prepare to start their time on campus. The coronavirus has thrown both processes into chaos.

Cassidy Payne is eventually going to be a freshman at Colorado State University, but there's only one thing she knows for sure.

"Pretty much, there's no chance of it being normal," said Cassidy.

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Cassidy is an incoming freshman at Colorado State University but doesn't know when she'll head to campus. Ben is just starting his college search at a time when he isn't able to make any in-person visits to campuses.

Her orientation has already moved online and some or all of her fall semester might be too.

Cassidy's brother, Ben, is a high school sophomore and is just starting his college search.

"My junior summer is usually really important to start looking at colleges," said Ben.

The visits he had planned are virtual until further notice. When it comes time for Ben to start sending in his applications, Certified Educational Planner and Estrela Consulting Founder and President Kristina Dooley says there will likely be at least one big change.

Ohio University
Some universities are temporarily changing their admissions criteria, recognizing that students might not be able to take standardized tests during social distancing restrictions.

"The post-COVID era will show less emphasis on standardized testing in the admissions process," said Dooley.

She says higher education was already focusing less on standardized tests before the outbreak, with some schools making sending those scores optional.

Dooley says for students who didn't perform well on them, it wouldn't count against their admissions application. But, the tests could be an asset for students who received high scores in their effort to not only get into a particular school, but also get financial aid from that institution.

Cassidy's mom Kathy says those tests made a difference for her daughter.

Kent State University
On Monday, Kent State University announced it would continue a pause on university-sponsored travel, maintain a hiring freeze and cutting staff in an effort to establish a balanced budget for the 2021 fiscal year, according to a release from the school.

"Cassidy's standardized tests were what pushed her into the honors program [at Colorado State University] because she did very well on them," said Kathy.

But for now, some institutions are waiving testing requirements for students who apply because social distancing guidelines are making it unsafe to sit for exams in-person.

Instead, admissions officials have told Dooley they can learn a lot from what students do during their social distancing downtime.

"If a student applies and they've spent this time learning how to repair lawnmowers, I will love that," Dooley says an admissions official told her. "I want to see what students will do when they think no one is watching."

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Admissions professionals say they'd rather see prospective students use the downtime students have during the coronavirus pandemic to do what they are genuinely interested in than activities they think colleges will like.

Dooley says high school GPA will always be important, but Ben's school switched to pass/fail for the rest of the year, making it easier for students, but creating a new set of questions.

"I don't know whether I'm going to get an A on my GPA, or a B on my GPA," said Ben. "It's all up in the air."

Dooley says at least for now, schools will have to get creative in how they evaluate students, focusing even more on holistic evaluations.

Kathy likes that idea and has been hoping schools would pay more attention to pieces of the application like recommendations.

"Because those will help put somebody in a more holistic, genuine perspective," said Kathy. "What is this person like? Is it someone you want on your campus?"

Dooley recommends that students applying for college be ready to ask those institutions about a wide range of COVID-related questions to best understand how the university will operate after the outbreak is over.

She suggests asking about:

  • Changes to scholarships, cleanliness, dorm life
  • The financial health of the college
  • Any programs that might get reduced or cut because of spending reductions