Gaps in transcription? A strong college application remains possible
AApplying to college usually comes with some uncertainty, but this year’s applicants tackle an additional question: what should you do when a pandemic has limited what happens in your applications to the university?
Many extracurriculars, including sports and clubs, have been unable to continue during the pandemic. And many school districts across the country, recognizing the challenges posed by the pandemic, have offered students the option of not receiving letter grades for the courses they have taken.
This choice left some students with “pass” or “credit”, or “fail” or “no credit”, rather than actual grades on their transcripts.
College admissions officers have been ready for these changes since before the current admissions cycle began, says David Hawkins, director of education and policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling.
“Admissions officers clearly understand the challenges these students have faced because they have had these experiences themselves,” says Hawkins. “They were locked up just like the students were.”
So what are colleges looking for now?
As applications have changed, what admissions officers are looking for has changed.
A transcript filled with “pass” or “credit” grades will not be counted against you, admissions officials say. What will be taken into account are the letter grades that appear on your transcript, as well as the courses you have taken, says Steve Robinson, senior associate vice president for enrollment management at the University of Utah.
“I think a lot of schools look at the academic rigor of what a student has attempted,” Robinson says. “In a rural high school, there may not be as many [Advanced Placement] opportunities, or none, but what I can say is that the student took everything that high school offered academically – he really tried, even though he [have pass grades].”
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As the ranking has changed, the testing requirements have changed. Even before the pandemic, colleges began making it optional to submit standardized test scores, such as those for the ACT and SAT. The practice has spread to more schools due to the difficulties the pandemic has posed.
Extracurricular activities also don’t look the same as before the pandemic. Hawkins says that in some cases, how students spent their free time during the pandemic supersedes the after-school section of an application, at least in the eyes of admissions officials.
Some apps, including the Common App — a standardized college app accepted at around 900 schools — may provide space to write about your experience during the pandemic, such as struggles you’ve faced or a new skill you’ve learned.
“The other thing I’ve heard from admissions officers is that they’ve been pleasantly surprised and, in some cases, amazed at what students have continued to do even during lockdown,” Hawkins says.
Your best app plays to your strengths
With the option to complete some essays or submit test scores, a strong application is the one that best shows what you’ve accomplished.
If you took the ACT or SAT and got a score that will help support your application, send it to the college you are applying to. But if you didn’t get a score that you want to include in your application, don’t include it, says Christine Harper, associate vice president for student success and director of enrollment at the University of Kentucky.
“We will use what benefits the student the most,” says Harper. With part of the application now optional, students should look back on everything they have done and present the best version of themselves to a college, adds Harper.
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Overall, the pandemic has forced college admissions officers to reevaluate their expectations of students, especially as high school students had different access to their usual activities, says Keri Risic, principal. Acting Executive of Admissions at the University of Minnesota.
Any changes to these activities are not considered negative, adds Risic. If you have something to share about your application that gives perspective on how you experienced the pandemic, admissions officers want to know.
Ultimately, while there are adjustments students can make to stand out in the application pool, the overwhelming message admissions officers have for prospective students is to worry less.
“Students should be quiet in a way, because the colleges fully understand the position they’re in,” Hawkins says. “Give yourself a little grace.”
This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.
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