How COVID-19 has changed the school year and college process for seniors

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Many seniors are applying for college early because of the pandemic. The changes that college applications have had from last year to this year are not many, but other things like campus tours have been put on hold for some universities.

This school year has already been a time for unpredictable changes and decisions for the county to make, but it is even more unpredictable for seniors who are making decisions about their futures, in a time when many of the normal college application processes are uncertain. One good thing came out of this uncertainty: seniors were able to submit early college applications with ease. 

“I wouldn’t say that the early application process is any different than the regular application process, other than just turning in your applications early,” senior Evan Edwards said. “I had all of my applications submitted by December 1st or earlier, depending on when it was due.” 

Other seniors shared similar opinions to Edwards. 

“I expected COVID would change colleges’ opinions on standardized testing, but I wasn’t expecting too many changes since most of the college application process is online,” senior Seeva Cherukuri said.  

Some seniors worried about test scores, visiting their dream schools and their college essays being completely different from normal. 

“In terms of COVID, I figured the college process would obviously have many changes with test scores, since some of us weren’t able to take them, and I realized there’d probably be some short answer questions regarding the impact of the virus,” senior Ashely Cox said.  

Things were also more stressful because students weren’t able to get in-person help often for their many questions about filling out their applications. 

“One thing that I expected is to be able to get in-person help from my high school counselor, but that didn’t happen. I had to figure it out myself, and I’m fairly proud of that,” senior Mackenzie Milani-Kaufman said. 

This wasn’t a surprise or shock for most of the seniors, as most everything they had done in terms of college applications was on their own. 

“I think the biggest disappointment due to COVID affecting school as a senior would be not being able to stop in at the guidance counselors’ office to ask a quick application question or pop by a teacher to get their advice on an essay, which can be difficult to efficiently explain in an email,” Cherukuri said.  

This, along with many other things was something seniors have learned just to be patient with.  

“Everything is getting pushed back in the pandemic, so I knew it would take some time to get my admission back and admission counselors have so many other applicants to look at,” senior Esther Koroma said. 

Using the CFNC account students have to sign up for in their freshman year, applications for public colleges went by as painlessly as possible, despite the unusual circumstances of the school year. 

“I feel like my application process wasn’t very different from anyone else’s. I went through CommonApp to do all of mine,” Edwards said. “I had to give all of my student and personal info, write a few essays and get teacher recommendations. Since I did apply to 4 art colleges, I did have to put together a 15-20 piece portfolio to submit alongside my application for those colleges.”  

The easiest part of the whole process was getting the results back. 

“I was surprised at the speed that some of my admission statements arrived. During free application week, I applied to UNC Pembroke, UNC Asheville, and Brevard,” Milani-Kaufman said. “Pembroke got back to me in three days saying I was accepted, which was definitely a shock.” 

For those who applied to many different schools, picking the best one out of all is a tricky process when tours are unavailable for some schools. 

“I applied to 5 (different schools). Getting accepted into all the schools I applied to is amazing, but didn’t help me in making my decision. I think I’ve narrowed my decision down to two colleges but I still want to go and visit them, so I’m going to wait until May to ‘commit’ to anywhere,” Edwards said. 

Besides the college process, the rest of this school year has changed in a discouraging way for these seniors.  

“It has been disappointing to have been told basically all our lives that our senior year would be the best year of our high school experience, and that it was finally our turn to relax a bit —while still working hard academically—and (we could) enjoy our last few memories in high school, but with online school, I often feel disconnected from my school and friends,” Cherukuri said. “But I’m also so grateful that my friends and family are healthy and not suffering from COVID, so I know it is for the best.”

It has been disappointing to have been told basically all our lives that our senior year would be the best year of our high school experience, and that it was finally our turn to relax a bit —while still working hard academically—and (we could) enjoy our last few memories in high school, but with online school, I often feel disconnected from my school and friends,”

— Seema Cherukuri

Other seniors shared the same sentiments of disappointment.  

“The end of my junior year and what is looking like the overwhelming majority of my senior year carried a lot of surprises. During the 2019-2020 school year, I was going to finally attend prom, which happened to take place on my 17th birthday. You can imagine the disappointment of that,” MIlani-Kaufman said.  

Many activities that normally took place at the school, from sports games to club meetings, have been unable to happen because of the pandemic. 

“Due to COVID, I won’t have an indoor track season. I will also probably miss many other events this year and it has just been a very weird year for everyone (since they are) adapting to doing everything differently,” Cox said. 

Seniors are missing more than just football games, they’re missing seeing their friends in the halls and attending their classes like they had been doing for the past 11 years of their lives. 

“We (the entire senior class) haven’t been able to do anything that someone would think of when you think (of the) senior experience,” Edwards said.“For sure, the biggest thing is probably just not getting to see my friends every day and be with them as much as I’d like to,” 

The structure of online classes in general was difficult to adjust to for everyone, including seniors. 

“I had to reteach myself how to learn without proper structure. It’s still a work in progress. I am immunocompromised, so I only left my house about five times in 2020. Literally. It was definitely not how I imagined my last year of high school to go,” Milani-Kaufman said.  

There are some positives, according to these seniors. 

“The flexible home schedule has allowed me to create really efficient study habits and has also allowed me time to focus on school but also hobbies and other activities that I would not have been able to accomplish with six classes a day plus homework,” Cherukuri said. “That’s something that has been a big source of enjoyment in the switch to online school.”