COVID-19 and college admissions: how fair is the system?

by Melissa Paz-Flores (’22) | March 1, 2021

Art by Allyson Wang (’23)

In the midst of a global health crisis and social unrest, securing that acceptance letter into your dream school may be tougher than ever before. It is becoming easier to apply to college, but consequently, harder to gain admission. Take Harvard, for example. It saw a 57% increase in applications, but its early action acceptance rate plummeted from 13.9% to 7.4%. Schools like Yale and Dartmouth followed a similar trend. Ivy League schools do not show the entire picture, however. The Common App released statistics where it saw a 2% decrease in overall applications, and the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center stated that it saw a 4% decline in undergraduate enrollment altogether. So, how do these mixed statistics impact the class of ’21, and will it be easier for future classes? Or is the whole process just becoming more unfair?

The very first time I heard about college applications and testing was when I was in 5th grade. My older sister was going through the process, and since then, I had already known it was unfair for many communities, especially the economically disadvantaged. I found it unrealistic to be “well-rounded” if resources were not available. Students need AP classes, standardized test prep, and often, private college admissions counselors. Paying for college is yet another hurdle: there is an extensive list of colleges that do not look at applicants’ socioeconomic status and do not guarantee the necessary amount of financial aid to fully cover tuition. And instead of tuition costs decreasing, they are actually skyrocketing in order to keep day-to-day operations afloat during the pandemic. 

Even worse is the need for standardized testing. Thankfully, some schools are test-optional, but I think that this choice can hurt those who don’t have a score, since it could give an “edge” to applicants with outstanding test results. In my experience as a junior, I’ve had my ACT canceled three times in the past six months due to COVID-19. It is entirely understandable, but disappointing since so much money and time was poured into preparing for this exam. Organizations such as the College Board have notoriously inadequate customer service as well, making it nearly impossible to request a refund or ask questions about scores. Therefore, students may have to work harder on other aspects of their applications, such as strengthening their extracurriculars or improving their GPA. Overall, I think that the process is getting increasingly difficult over time, not just because of the elimination of standardized tests, but also with the number of qualified applicants who apply. 

However, this isn’t the only way to look at it. Colleges are known to evaluate students’ applications on all sides: not just test scores and grades, but their character and passions too.    

To clearly understand how fair the application process is, it is important to hear from seniors who have gone through it. I interviewed Janani Sriram (’21) and Roxy Thomas (’21), asking for their thoughts. Janani said, “I do think that the college application process depends on factors outside of your passions, interests, and activities. For example, writing essays, especially eye-catching, memorable narratives, comes more naturally to some individuals than it does to others, and depending on who reads and critiques your essays, you may get a lot of editing help or none at all. It’s vital to remember, however, that a lot of it is luck-based: you could be the best at what you do, but if you have no physical evidence to prove it, you’re at a disadvantage.” 

Roxy’s view was similar: “I believe that the college application process in general is quite unfair and that receiving a college education is only achievable for those who can afford it.” It is interesting to hear from them; I feel it truly depends on socioeconomic status, availability of resources, and sheer luck.” 

Categories: Opinions

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