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In-Depth: COVID-19 complicates college applications

HS Seniors struggle with new rules
Posted at 6:01 AM, Oct 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-09 13:51:59-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - High school students are managing a new normal as they apply for colleges.

"This is a hot topic," says Matt Hunt, a guidance counselor at Rancho Bernardo High School. "This is something that kids are concerned about, parents are concerned about, people are curious about."

The biggest adjustment for the 2021 fall application period is the use of standardized tests, like the SAT or ACT.

Because of coronavirus concerns, many testing centers have been unavailable, making it difficult for students to take a test. To level the playing field across county and state lines, schools are either eliminating a test requirement or making it optional.

According to FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, more than 1,600 colleges and universities have made those tests "optional" for admission in the upcoming school year. That means students are not required to submit a test score, but can if they choose. FairTest also says more than 60 schools have gone "test-blind." That means they will not use a test score to determine admission, even if a student puts it in the application.

In California, the Cal State system says they will be test-blind in 2021. The UC Schools initially said they would be test-optional, but a court decision over the summer forced them to be test-blind. The UC schools also say they plan to eliminate traditional standardized tests by 2025, and will write their own admissions test.

RELATED: University of Californai to Stop Using ACT, SAT through 2024

Without tests, counselors say students need to focus on their grades and personal statements and essays to stand out.

"I would tell students to focus on answering those questions candidly," says Tracy Wilson, the Director of College and Career Readiness for Grossmont Union High School District. "They need to answer them with their own student voice, because if they are a student who has struggled with those opportunities, that's the place to share the 'why.'"

Wilson also says to focus your search and only worry about the application standards for the schools you plan to apply.

"Colleges want a variety of students," she says. "The academics are important, but it's not the only thing... Put yourself out there try do your best. I really feel like colleges are going to be very welcoming on their campuses next fall."

Hunt agrees, saying it's important to stay on top of any changes that occur in the next few months. He tells students to stay in communication with your school counselor and the admissions offices where you plan to apply.

"You're going to apply to a handful of schools, you'll see what happens," says Hunt. "But there's a school out there, and an opportunity out there for everyone. So remember that."