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Going virtual in the college and life readiness process – blessing or curse?

Though students are stressing about returning to an online school year, could there be hidden benefits to seniors going virtual in the college and life readiness process? 

While the shift to virtual school has seemingly flipped public education, the college application process, and almost everything else upside down, this change also brings new opportunities.

“I believe going virtual has been a blessing and a burden during this time. I think it has helped many teenagers slow down and focus on their mental health, and it has also made the college application process slow down,” said rising Godwin Senior Grace Lanham.

 Even with things slowing down, there is still a lot to consider when approaching life readiness, and going virtual has sent up many red flags for seniors in this process, beginning with testing.

SAT’s and ACT’s have been a focal point in college applications for years, but with new pandemic restrictions, the country is experiencing nationwide test cancelations. Not only have SAT, ACT, and other standardized tests been disrupted by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but so have numerous other characteristics common to the college application. 

According to an article by National Public Radio (NPR), “students’ applications may be missing not only SAT and ACT scores, but also a semester or two of grades…Schools will also have to make do without a semester’s worth or more of extracurricular activities — sports, band, theater, volunteering and anything else that would help distinguish applicants from one another.”

Unsurprisingly, colleges have begun to take notice of these changes and, in turn, they are changing the way they review prospective students. 

Many schools are planning on taking “a deeper dive” into each candidate and hope to consider other avenues of academic and personal evaluation.

Kedra Ishop, University of Southern California’s new Vice President of Enrollment Management, said to NPR, “we may not normally use [Advanced Placement] scores, or writing samples, but we’ve told the students give us what you think best represents you in an academic space and let us see what we can do with that.”

While many colleges and universities have decided to go test-optional, students can not help but worry about test center closings and completing a test when schools are hinting that scores could provide students a leg up on the competition.

 “I am worried about testing centers being cancelled because the time to apply to colleges and send in scores is dwindling somewhat quickly, and I want to make sure I am sending in the best possible scores that properly reflect my work ethic,” said Lanham.

However, students who have not had the opportunity to take an SAT or ACT examination thus far now have the chance with extended testing opportunities being provided by the College Board this coming fall.

According to the College Board’s ‘Dates and Deadlines’ webpage, dates for SAT administration will continue to be offered in each month until December 2020.

In addition, colleges are emphasizing that students will not be at a disadvantage for applying sans SAT, ACT, or even extracurriculars.

According to a statement given by Harvard University which was endorsed by deans across the country, “No student will be disadvantaged because of a change in commitments or a change in plans because of this outbreak, their school’s decisions about transcripts, the absence of AP or IB tests (although many of the colleges represented here don’t require these tests), their lack of access to standardized tests, or their inability to visit campus.”

Since colleges and universities are beginning to shift away from assessing standardized test scores due to the pandemic, many schools have taken this time to  move towards a more holistic evaluation approach.

According to an article from educational website Inside Higher Ed, many colleges are looking at the small actions students are taking to better themselves and their communities at this time.

In a statement given by the Vice President of Enrollment Kristin R. Tichenor at Wentworth Institute of Technology, “We [colleges] have to put our traditional rubrics to the side. If a student is working hard to stay healthy, taking care of siblings [that should count].”

While universities are beginning to broaden their holistic evaluation approach, students can also take a similar initiative by looking at alternative ways in which they can boost their student profiles and resumes.

According to an article by US News, Alan Katzman, CEO and founder of Social Assurity, said, “We want [students] to build a digital portfolio to present these noncognitive skills they can bring in, whether it’s leadership, understanding of collaboration, time management, resilience.”

Other college admissions experts also advise students to think creatively with college resume builders, suggesting that students take up a new job or online internship if possible.

With virtual school providing optimism of lenient schedules, students can take advantage of this extra time to start an online business, attend an online class from a college or outside program, or even take up virtual tutoring.

In a YouTube video published by Crimson Education, examples are provided of student-led initiatives, where groups such as Art For Good, Tutoraid, and GirlGenius raise money from art sales to fund local food banks, tutor students in economics and accounting, and even empower female change makers through social media, respectively.

While students can explore alternative routes to building their college resume, the lack of opportunities to visit schools has made the college search a more daunting task.

Rising Godwin Senior Anne Manspile said, “Virtual school has affected my college list because I haven’t been able to visit a lot of colleges. My view on the college application process had changed because now, seniors are not able to visit campuses and get a real feel for schools.”

Students can take comfort in knowing that colleges and universities are expanding their use of virtual tours.

According to a New York Times article, sites like CampusTours, YouVisit, and StriveScan offer virtual tours from several hundred colleges and universities within the country as well as for schools in the UK, Canada, and various other countries. Some tools they offer include student testimonials, active chats where students can speak with college admission representatives during their tour, and informational videos about events and programs offered by schools.

Financial stress is another factor in the college search that is becoming more and more relevant during this time, and some students are wondering if college is not the only option.

“I have now considered going down more of a path of a gap year or community college, because I can spend so much money on college just to go virtual for most of my classes. The virus has certainly opened my eyes to a lot more options that are there for me,” said Lanham.

With the uncertainty of schools remaining virtual for the fall of 2021, students are hoping to break the stigma of gap years and community college. Resources such as The Gap Year Association strive to provide students with information and opportunities they can take during a gap year and how to make the most of this time.

Community college can also be a wise choice financially, as students can explore various fields of interest while taking the same classes as their peers in other institutions, while inevitably saving money.

There are opportunities available for everyone, and students should take this time to start discovering what jobs or majors they may be interested in and going from there.

To students, senior year has always been about transitioning into something new and embracing the uncertainties. This fact remains unchanged.

Though, now we have more room to discover new and exciting opportunities and ways to innovate that previous seniors have not had the privilege of experiencing. A virtual shift may produce new obstacles for students, but with adversity comes creativity.

As author C.S. Lewis once said, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”

In our world now, we can only imagine what extraordinary destinies await us.

photo Google

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