St. Ed’s seniors making college plans for next year are contending with a challenging array of COVID-19 related obstacles and uncertainties.
Saint Edward’s School takes pride in the fact that 100 percent of its students are accepted to 4-year universities, and more than 90 percent are accepted to their first or second choice, including an impressive number who have attended Ivy League and other upper-tier colleges.
Things are different this year, though, said Michele Sternberg, director of College Counseling and academic dean.
College schedules are still uncertain as the pandemic continues. Regulations vary from state to state and day to day, and schools that now plan to open their campuses in the fall could change their minds if the virus rebounds.
In addition, there are fewer openings for college freshmen and more students than ever vying for available spots at selective colleges and universities.
Last fall, a large number of first-year college students across the country chose to defer enrollment – mainly because parents did not want to send their children so far from home during the pandemic, or pay for their kids to attend college virtually.
Many of those students are now ready to take their place as freshman at the schools where they were accepted, taking up space that this year’s high school seniors are competing for.
Because of that, admittance rates are lower than they have ever been in the history of college admissions, and there have been fewer early acceptance offers this year, Sternberg said. “Because of all those factors going against us, we’ll have a tougher time with the Ivies this year, but that will be true at every school in the nation.”
Despite these challenges, “the tone from the colleges, kids and parents is one of cautious optimism for this fall,” said John MacMullan, associate head of school and head of Upper School.
However, “if things do not break our way and the COVID precautions continue, I think we will definitely see an uptick in the number of deferrals. People … don’t want to pay many tens of thousands of dollars for an online experience.”
Another significant change in the college application process this year that adds additional uncertainty is the sweeping shift to “test-optional” admissions at most major universities and colleges.
This new policy, which no longer requires SAT or ACT scores, has boosted student confidence and more students than ever are “throwing their hat in the ring” and applying to Ivy League schools they previously wouldn’t have considered because their test scores weren’t competitive.
Despite the test-optional trend, “we’ll continue to have our rising seniors go through the testing process and submit testing when it’s strong,” said MacMullan, noting that informal studies show strong test scores give most applicants an advantage.
Colleges and universities adopting the test-optional model are relying more heavily on high school transcripts, focusing on solid grades, a strong grade-point average and rigorous coursework along with activities, athletics, arts, extracurriculars, jobs and community service.
Students at St. Ed’s, where college counseling begins in eighth grade, tend to be well prepared in those categories.
“We didn’t change the way we advised students in this office this year,” said Sternberg. “We applied to the places that we thought were good fits. We always look for where we think our kids will be successful. We didn’t have students apply to the highly selective schools with low test scores, even though they could have applied test-optional.”
Currently, about three-quarters of Saint Edward’s School seniors have already been accepted to one of their top choices. The remainder either haven’t decided yet or are anxiously awaiting the April 6 deadline for news from schools they have applied to.
Alejandro Wang was recently notified of his acceptance to Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., one of the top math, science and engineering undergraduate colleges in the country.
Wang is headed to his first-choice school as an engineering major and says he opted to submit his test scores, reasoning that good test scores would help demonstrate his academic accomplishments.
Cristina Pines is among those keeping her eye on the mailbox, hoping for an acceptance letter from Brown University. She has a range of academic interests, from theater to business to environmental science, and has not decided on a major.
While Brown is her top choice, Pines also applied to other Ivy League and top-tier colleges and universities. She said she plans to visit the colleges where she’s been accepted, “to pick up the energy from the school. To really just feel that magic to know where I want to go.”
She also opted to submit her test scores, feeling that it was as much an aspect of integrity as a means to boost her chances of acceptance at a great school.
MacMullan is generally confident the school’s college-bound students are where they need to be academically, despite the pandemic. “We’re very fortunate to be in an environment where we’ve been able to be on campus for 90 percent of this pandemic with face-to-face instruction.”