Admissions offices adjust expectations for COVID-19 disruption



As students are confined to their houses, finding the right college has gotten more difficult, and standing out in an application may seem more stressful. But according to admissions officers from local colleges, there’s still a lot to be done at home to prepare for higher education.

As our daily lives come to a standstill, lots of things in the future are starting to look like big question marks. For many juniors, this applies to the college process, with all tours canceled and standardized tests postponed indefinitely, among other changes.
However, college admissions counselors want to assure you that this is not a cause for stress. Colleges and universities are being disrupted as well, and they plan on looking at this time in limbo as an asterisk on everyone’s applications.

College and guidance counselor Lenny Libenzon said in a Zoom meeting with students that he has talked with many colleges and, generally, they plan on being understanding of any adjustments the high school ultimately decides to make in grading policies, transcripts or standardized testing.

“The overall message is that next year, colleges are going to be super sensitive about any changes we make,” Libenzon said. “Colleges need students just as much as students need colleges, so of course they will adjust their expectations.”

Libenzon said that he expects to see many schools going test-optional in response to the cancellation of many test dates. He also said that although tours have been put on hold, there are still many ways to familiarize yourself with potential matches.

“Make sure you stay home and stay safe and do tours by virtually visiting them. We have a really helpful link that lists all these colleges and what they’re doing for virtual tours and all these other resources, and we’ll put that on the website as well,” Libenzon said. “I would also recommend visiting after you get accepted, because you look at the college completely differently, you’re thinking about how well you’ll fit in and all of that.”

According to Grant Gosselin, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Boston College, there is plenty you can do at home even if you’re still just starting the process.

“Most colleges and universities will have a tool right on their website for you to add your name to their mailing list, and I would definitely encourage that you do that, because you’ll begin to be aware of different events that are going on,” Gosselin said in a recent Zoom meeting that included three other admissions officers. “Our websites have a wealth of information.”

Michael Iorio, Director of Admissions at Saint Anselm College, said that with all of the resources up on college websites, exploration does not have to be put on hold.

“We all know that websites are our number one marketing tool, so those are always kept up-to-date, and there’s always new information that’s going onto them every day,” Iorio said.

Many other concerns came up during the meeting, including whether financial aid would be affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Several officers agreed that many adjustments will need to be made given the loss of income many families are facing and that aid packages for incoming freshmen may need to be reexamined.

Current financial aid packages “were made based on 2018 data, where the tax returns and the W2’s we used were from two years ago. So many of those students will see those packages and need to put in an appeal and let folks know about their new realities,” Gosselin said. “We’re fortunate to be able to meet the full need of every student, but that’s going to take a new level of commitment this year for us to maintain that.”

Colleges are currently unsure how to consider scores from this year’s modified Advanced Placement (AP) tests and whether to give credit. However, Gosselin said that Boston College hopes to accept scores in the same way they would any year.

“My intention is to move forward honoring those course scores as we’ve done in the past,” Gosselin said. “We realize that a lot of the exams only go through Unit 6 or so, but we also acknowledge that colleges and universities that have moved online are not offering exactly the same curriculum for our own students, so if we’re going to be adjusting our policies for our students, it’d make sense to do that for high school students as well. The College Board has a long history of effective assessments, and we expect that that will maintain through these exams.”

Another large change that could be on the horizon for many high schools is a pass/fail fourth quarter. Douglass Seed, Assistant Director of Admissions at UMass Lowell, said that the impact of this on applications has not been discussed yet.

“We all know that every single applicant is going to have some sort of unique circumstance because of this situation, so a policy will be developed to account for that,” Seed said. “In no way will it be held against a student; we just have to develop a policy.”

Another question on the minds of seniors is whether colleges will be ready to return by the fall. However, according to Leykia Nulan, Dean of Admission at Mount Holyoke College, that hasn’t yet been planned for.

“It has been such a mad dash to transition to going completely digital and all of the pieces that are involved there. So we’re only just starting to put long-range thinking groups together, and we have just begun to bring up issues about the fall,” Nulan said. “We’re thinking about this, but no one is anticipating not being able to be in session in the fall.”

In terms of extracurricular interests, Iorio and other officers said that although many things are on hold, it is important to find new things to do and to reach out to colleges about your particular interests.

“We’ve adjusted to our remote locations, our coaches are still plugged in and recruiting, so you can fill out those interest forms on websites,” Iorio said. “Fill out those forms, reach out to the head of a club, continue those conversations, because that might actually be a good way for you to quench that thirst of continuing to do what you enjoy.”