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Like Everything Else, Applying To College During The Pandemic Is Weird And Unsettling. Here's What You Need To Know

Cal Poly Pomona is one of many universities not considering standardized test scores for admission next fall. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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Standardized tests and college visits are out. Virtual advising and pandemic essays are in.

Applications for the fall 2021 semester at California State University campuses became available on Oct. 1.

So did applications for federal financial aid for the 2021-22 school year.

With college application season in full swing, I've spent the last few weeks talking to college advisors and university admissions officers to better understand how the coronavirus pandemic has altered the gauntlet for high school students applying to college.

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Here's what you need to know:

Most Schools Aren't Requiring Standardized Tests

The coronavirus is snuffing out standardized tests, at least temporarily (but maybe even permanently).

According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, two-thirds of all U.S. 4-year colleges and universities are either not requiring (test-optional), or not even considering (test-blind) standardized test scores for 2021 applicants.

That includes the entire University of California and California State University systems.

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Critics of standardized tests are doing a happy dance.

The empty college and career center at Alhambra High School. All college advising this year is virtual. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Pass/Fail Grades And Cancelled Extracurriculars? No Worries

College admissions officers say they'll take extra care this year to put students' applications into context: global pandemic, natural disasters, family hardships, radically altered high school experiences and all.

Maybe you missed out on a senior-year internship. But maybe you became an instant tutor to your younger siblings when in-person classes were cancelled.

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Admissions officers say they want to hear about those kinds of heroic extracurriculars. And USC associate professor Julie Posselt hopes the pandemic might change what it means to be an outstanding college applicant.

"Even if they haven’t had the opportunity to have great extracurriculars, they can demonstrate worth on a different dimension that I think will have more value when we’re on the other side of the pandemic.”

Covid-19 Questions On Applications

Many colleges and universities this year are inviting applicants to tell them how the coronavirus affected them personally. Be specific, advisors say.

Here's what that section looks like on this year's Common Application, which students can use to apply to USC and over 900 other colleges and universities:

Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces.

  • Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N
  • Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.
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The USC campus, like many others across California, is closed to visitors because of the coronavirus pandemic, Oct. 2, 2020. (Chava Sanchez/LAist)

Maybe You Can't Visit A Campus In Person, But You Can Visit Dozens Of Campuses Virtually

High schoolers might have to forego the college tour road trip with mom, which, let's be honest, could be a relief for all involved.

Still, it does mean students might miss out on testing the vibe of different campuses to see which one best suits them. And students who have never set foot on a college campus might have trouble imagining themselves there.

But on the upside, logging into a Zoom information session or watching a virtual tour is about as inexpensive as college shopping gets. So bring on the crowds.


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