College Apps in a Pandemic

Satire Warning!


Julie Chung '21

Processed with VSCO with b1 preset

Brett Donshik '21, Staff Writer

Applying to college in a pandemic is a bizarre experience. As students apply early to colleges three thousand miles away for no reason other than pure desperation to escape their mundane hometowns, you can’t help but confront the futility of the whole process.

As a junior, you would never have anticipated that you would have to blindly pick your top choice through online informational sessions. You probably had planned on taking your first college visit during the second week of spring break, but your March SAT was cancelled 10 minutes before the official administration was set to begin.

Still, your morale remained high. You had just arrived in Los Angeles for your grand California college tour: Chapman, USC, Santa Clara, Stanford, and countless others. As you check your email, you see your inbox flooded with messages like “Your UCLA visit: CANCELLED. Stay tuned for virtual visit options coming in the near future.”

Months pass, more SAT and ACT tests cancelled, more visits are cancelled, and schools start broadcasting their new test optional plans. Overwhelmed by confusion, you began to explore these virtual visit options to be wooed by slideshows of sprawling campuses, promises of internship programs, and hopes that someday you will actually be able to leave your bedroom to attend college.

Instead of comparing schools using the traditional pro/con list, you decided to use this type of chart to document your application experience, comparing it to what you think it would have been in any other normal year:

No campus visits. No more trekking across the country to visit schools and “demonstrating interest.” Did I really want to plan an extra trip to Iowa just to visit Grinnell when I could just attend a webinar and send in my application? No, I really don’t think so. Also, interviews are so much more fun when I don’t have to dress formally — at least on the bottom half. Anyway, with the money we’re saving from airfare and hotels, maybe my indecisive self will actually be able to afford the application fees for all 25 schools I’m applying to.

Test optional. So I guess I don’t have to care about the SAT anymore? Maybe? Hopefully? I did take it once in December, didn’t study, and got a 780 — no, not on just one section, but on the entire test. Thank god I don’t have to send that anywhere — especially Georgetown. Wait. Georgetown is test optional only for students who haven’t taken any test yet. Wow. Way to make things confusing, Georgetown. At least GW and American are truly test optional.

More Time to Refine Essays. Since I was at home all summer, I could ruminate over the UChicago supplement prompt, “What can actually be divided by 0?” and Pomona’s question, “What is your favorite way to eat a potato?” and neurotically pick apart every last word of my Common App Essay. I mean, what else is there to do in a pandemic? Go for a walk? Go to yet another virtual campus tour to get even more inspiration for the “Why X School” essay?

No campus visits. As I said, I’m incredibly indecisive. Slideshows can only show you so much. How am I supposed to judge an entire school based on one interaction with an admissions associate? I guess I will never know if a bad weather day will have turned me off from UC San Diego or if I would have been able to bask in the glorious winter weather of Bowdoin or Colby.

Test-Optional. There is so much confusion involved. Do I send a 1490 to Harvard? Will Amherst reject me if I don’t send an ACT score? How optional is test optional really? Who is even considering subject tests this year? I really want to show off my 780 on the Modern Hebrew test, but MIT won’t look at it. I just don’t know what to do and I almost wish that all schools could pull a Georgetown and require me to send in everything I have.

More Time to “Refine” Essays. This extra time would be put to great work if “refine” wasn’t a synonym for “procrastinate.” Why would I use the extra time at home to actually work? It’s a lot more exciting to complete the first draft of the Common App Essay on November 1st at 11:45 p.m. and submit at 11:59. Any edits can be made before Regular Decision, probably on New Year’s Eve. Let’s not even mention the supplements.

After finally submitting your early applications, all you can do is sit back and wait. In a pandemic, the results will likely be just as unpredictable as the application process itself. Who knows? Maybe next year you will be attending your dream school from the comfort of your back porch, or if you’re lucky, the back corner of your dark basement. But for now, all you can do is trust the process and hope everything goes as desired.