In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges have been making significant changes to the admissions process. So far, the change in policy to optional standardized testing has sparked controversy. The cancellation of overseas summer activities for students has caused many students to panic. Activities such as sports tournaments, volunteering trips and fellowships, have been postponed or canceled. For Delaney Klace ’21, the stress began to set in when she received an email notifying that the school was planning to cancel its college tours.
“I feel like the collection of schools Harvard-Westlake organized can’t be replicated on a tour I would do on my own, based on the number of schools we were going to see and the distance we were planning to travel,” Klace said. “With that said, I understand the need to cancel the tours and I’m just happy that everyone is safe and healthy.”
Even though many college tour trips have been canceled, the school has provided alternatives, as they have been hosting online college panels with alumni for students to learn more about college life. In addition, many other resources are available for students to explore colleges from the comfort of their homes. Many students like Sarah Rivera ’21 have been taking virtual tours of colleges instead of the college tour they were planning on attending during spring break.
“For now, I’ll have to figure out a way to tour colleges on my own,” Rivera said. “I have taken a few virtual tours, but the experience is definitely not the same as touring a college in real life. There’s definitely a sense of disconnect and a less personal feeling, as well as the fact that colleges can now idealize themselves even more than before, as they have complete control over everything we see on the tour.”
Students discuss how testing changes will affect their college applications
Due to COVID-19, many other factors have changed, impacting the college admissions process. On top of extracurriculars and GPA, there is another statistic that many students have questions about: testing scores. Because of the virus, many pen and paper tests have been converted into online ones. Not only does this mean that the test material itself changes, but also the timing of each test. For example, the Advanced Placement exams taken in May were reduced to 45-minute exams consisting of two questions.
“Personally, I don’t mind the changes in the AP exams because it seems for the most part that the exams will be a little bit easier and less time-consuming than they have been in the past,” Klace said. “I do feel like colleges will value our scores and potential credit even less than they already have, but in my opinion they never valued the scores very much to begin with.”
However, Rivera said she has concerns about the changes in AP exams.
“The changes in AP exams give me mixed feelings, but overall I feel even more nervous than before,” Rivera said. “The 45 minute testing period definitely seems as though it is not sufficient enough to justly test our knowledge on the subjects, and I’m most apprehensive about how the language exams, for example, will include both spoken and written sections effectively.”
Furthermore, the College Board canceled the March, May and June SAT exams. Josephine Amakye ’21 said she was planning to take the March SAT and that its cancellation has been significantly more stressful than the changes to AP exams.
“I had been studying for a while and was so close to getting it out of the way,” Amakye said. “Unlike the AP test, some students have already taken the SAT. This factor makes a decision that is universally fair seem impossible to find. There is just so much to consider in deciding what is fair for everyone. I only feel regret for not having taken one earlier but had I taken one I would feel upset that it wouldn’t be considered as heavily by a school choosing to be test optional.”
As a result of SAT cancellations, many colleges have made the test optional for students applying in the 2020-2021 year in order to accommodate those who are unable to take the exam.
“I think that the SAT being optional for many colleges seems like a very fair decision to make,” Alex Chon ’21 said. “Personally I was affected by the SAT cancellations because I planned to take my SAT [but] it got canceled. I plan to take an SAT, however if I am unable to take one before college applications due to the pandemic then I am thankful that colleges have made it optional.”
While testing scores from the SAT and ACT are important, there are also many other factors to consider in a college application as well. Besides the GPA requirements and objective statistical numbers, U.S. News and USA Today both suggest that the college essays and extracurricular activities are equally important, as they can help make one student stand out from the rest.
Students express their views regarding changes to summer programs
For some, that includes activities over the summer. Many of the school’s summer programs have luckily been able to be redesigned for online use. Other activities, such as sports and community service trips, however, weren’t so fortunate. Volunteer trips to foreign countries and internships at local businesses all fall under this category. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, many activities that students had planned for the summer have either been canceled or moved online.
For Grant Keller ’21, the cancellation of his Humanitarian Experience For Youth (HEFY) volunteer trip to Ghana and his financial internship were his main worries. Despite his trip to Ghana being canceled, Keller said that because he’s already had so many experiences to volunteer, the trip to Ghana would not have affected his college applications that much.
In addition to his summer visit to Ghana, Keller said that the only other large thing on his mind was his internship opportunity, which he is unsure will continue.
“If I lost my internship in August, that would be incredibly impactful in a bad way because it’s going to give me some experience in the financial area, which I’m really interested in doing both in and out of college,” Keller said.
While COVID-19 has been disrupting plans for most people, some have been barely affected at all. For Jacky Zhang ’21, his original involvement in math and science camps and competitions, as well as his five-day HW Inc. summer course, have been shifted online and will continue as planned.
“Unlike most other camps, they decided to do it online three months ago when this outbreak had first started,” Zhang said. “HW Inc., a five day entrepreneurship summer camp that we run on the school’s campus, has been switched into online as well.”
The only difficulties he has experienced have been his HW Fellowship trip and a possible internship over the summer. Due to COVID-19, most of the fellowships that were going to occur overseas were either denied or canceled.
“I think I was trying to get an internship, but I’ve talked to a few people and they’ve told me that it’ll be really hard to get an internship this year because a lot of people are currently out of jobs and many companies are just simply not hiring at all,” Zhang said. “They just told me it would probably be better just to do something on my own.”
Lukas Seklir ’21, like Keller, said that although many of his travel plans, such as visiting his family in Switzerland and New York, have been canceled, his plans of managing his company and working at an internship as part of a programming team have been unaffected.
Seklir added that he’s been working on an app with a friend that would help UCLA students get jobs in the Westwood area. But, due to COVID-19, Seklir said he had to postpone development on the app until UCLA reopens.
“Unfortunately, all operations on [that app] ceased temporarily when UCLA closed down,” Seklir said. “We’ve been trying to find other things to do in the meantime, so it’s not like we’re totally inactive, but it has been a big deterrent.”
Dean and Department Head Beth Slattery said that most students should not fret because of COVID-19 cancellations. Because most students are in similar situations, Slattery said that it would be an issue only if some students were able to do programs others were not.
In addition, Slattery said that there will probably be a greater emphasis on what the student has already accomplished, rather than what they will get done during the COVID-19 hiatus.
“I just think that more weight will be placed on how kids were performing at the time that [COVID-19] happened, as opposed to kids having as much of an opportunity to kind of catch up,” Slattery said. “For example, if people were trying to catch up like ‘oh I’ll do something really great this summer even though I haven’t done much prior to this,’ that’s going to be harder.”
Regarding standardized testing and school grading, Slattery said that she believes testing will be weighed the same, and that the statistics will not necessarily be weighed anymore than they already had done in the past.
“For many other schools that are going pass or fail, those schools have increased weight on grades prior to the pass or fail, so in some ways, I think that students in Harvard-Westlake are in a fortunate position since many of them will have testing and all of them will have actual grades,” Slattery said. “That to me is more helpful than kids in situations where they don’t necessarily have testing and don’t necessarily have grades.”
COVID-19 impacts college decisions for some students
According to EdSource, students’ college decisions may be affected due to COVID-19, leading them choose to attend a college closer to their homes instead of their first choice college. In a poll of 140 Harvard-Westlake seniors, 17 percent responded that their college decision was impacted by COVID-19.
Lauren Juzang ’20 said she decided to defer her college admission for one year. Juzang said she was planning to attend Syracuse University for a degree in music and entertainment. However, because Syracuse University is a college located in upstate New York, it is close to the epicenter of the COVID-19 crisis, which could be a problem if the virus makes a resurgence in the Winter.
Juzang said the biggest reason that she deferred was the loss of music opportunities that were integral to her specific major.
“What turned me off is the thing that I love about my program, which is the music festivals and the artists that come and perform and we get to meet,” Juzang said. “Same with the weekly speakers that we get, which I doubt we will get because of traveling [restrictions].”
Klace said she is hopeful that the college application process normalizes by the end of summer.
“I hope by the late summer or fall I will be able to see the schools I am most interested in in-person, but I guess there is really no way to know when that will be possible right now,” Klace said.