By Deirdre Fernandes and Steve Annear
on March 23, 2020
Spring is traditionally a big time for high school juniors preparing for college, with SATs to ace and transcripts to perfect.
Many had scheduled campus tours in April to narrow their college choices and impress admissions deans with their in-person visits. Spring athletes planned to show off to college recruiters filling spots on team rosters and budding scientists expected to boost their admissions chances by taking home top prizes in high school robotics matches.
But the coronavirus pandemic has put the brakes on that momentum and brought the usually hectic spring term of junior year to an abrupt standstill. High schools have been closed, tests canceled or modified, and college campus tours canceled, leaving many teenagers and their families frustrated and uncertain about the path forward.
“I’m definitely nervous for a lot of reasons,” said Nathan Brophy, 17, a junior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. “I was planning to visit a bunch of colleges on April spring break and that’s not happening. I’m not sure if I’m going to get my grades this semester. It’s just a lot, just in general. No one has answers for any of these questions.”
Brophy said some of his teachers have been better organized than others in the transition to online classes, and many of the resources he counted on to help him study for the Advanced Placement tests and SATs were school-based. Now, he worries that when he does take the standardized tests, he won’t do as well.
“It’s frustrating to not know how it’s going to happen,” said Anna Galer, 17, a junior in Easton. “I know it’s totally a first-world problem compared to what so many people are facing right now. But it’s also really hard to know that something I feel like I’ve worked so long for is getting screwed up.”
Galer said she and her mom were going to visit colleges in Ohio and New York over spring break in April. Now, she’s checking out virtual tours online, but it doesn’t give her the same sense of campus life or a gut feel about whether a college is the right fit.
She’s also worried that she will be juggling too much this summer, between her job at a camp, studying and taking the SAT test and other entrance exams, and visiting colleges.
“When you’ve been thinking this is your plan,” Galer said. “It’s hard to do a 180.”
Some colleges have started easing their requirements to adjust to chaotic and uncertain times.
A handful of higher education institutions, including Case Western Reserve University, made standardized test scores optional last week citing the coronavirus.
“We would rather students focus as best they can on their academic subjects rather than worrying about the SAT or ACT,” Richard Bischoff, Case Western's vice president for enrollment management, told the publication Inside Higher Ed. “Testing has always been just one factor in our evaluation of applications, and we are confident that we will continue to make quality admission decisions for those students who are either unable to test or who choose not to submit test scores.”
Last week, the College Board, which administers some of the major standardized entrance exams, announced AP tests will be available as 45-minute, online exams that may be taken at home. Committees are already at work selecting questions for the online exams, according to the College Board.
“To be fair to all students, some of whom have lost more instructional time than others, the exam will only include topics and skills most AP teachers and students have already covered in class by early March,” the College Board said in a statement.
SAT tests have been canceled through at least May 2, in an effort to prevent the spread of coronavirus. The College Board in a statement on its webpage said SAT tests scheduled for early June have not yet been canceled, but the organization “will continue to assess its status with the health and safety of students and educators as the top priority.”
The College Board will schedule new testing dates as soon as possible, the organization said.
Colleges are going to have to make more concessions for students, said Michele Hernandez Bayliss, copresident and founder of Top Tier Admissions, a private college counseling firm.
Colleges that require students to submit their scores for a slew of standardized tests will have to scale back their expectations. Schools that make admissions decisions based in part on whether students visited the campus will have to reconsider that strategy at a time when tours have been cancelled and state governments have warned against traveling, she said.
“They’re going to have to make adjustments for everyone,” Bayliss said.
Families have been scrambling in recent weeks, and Bayliss and her business partner Mimi Doe have advised students to adopt a plan B. Lacrosse and softball players whose seasons have been cut short may have to cobble together family home videos of their games to submit to college coaches. Students who planned to compete in science fairs may want to consider making YouTube videos for younger children about their inventions, Bayliss and Doe said.
Elsa Martinez-Pimentel, the Massachusetts regional director for uAspire, which helps low-income and first generation students through the college financial aid process, said her organization has delayed efforts to get high school juniors prepared to fill out complicated federal forms that are necessary for grants and loans to attend college.
The organization had hoped to start the process this spring so high school students weren’t crushed by academic work, tests, and college applications in the fall of their senior year. But these juniors, many in Boston, are busy getting set for online classes after their schools shut down, she said.
The organization’s counselors and workers have also been deployed to reach out to high school seniors who are suddenly at home with no access to printers and with limited Internet capability trying to download last-minute parental tax information and fill out all their paperwork to make sure colleges award them the financial aid they need to enroll this fall.
“I think our juniors have a little more time to buy,” Martinez-Pimentel said.
Still, it can be difficult to regroup after students who have worked so hard find themselves suddenly stalled by the virus, students and counselors said.
Galer, the Easton student, said she wavers between being upset and resigned depending on the day. But she does take some consolation in knowing that she’s not alone.
“Everything that’s happening to me is happening to everybody across the world,” she said.
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