In Unprecedented Times, Arroyo Seniors Navigate the College Application Process

Alicia Naranjo-Champion, Editor-in-chief

Arroyo’s Class of 2021 has completed its final fall semester. The COVID-19 pandemic, which led the school to transition to a virtual learning environment, has changed much of the typical senior year experience. 

Samuel Regan, 12, president of the Arroyo Homeless Pets club, had been looking forward to senior year “rites of passage” like prom. “But most of all, I was excited for the final year of team sports with friends that I have grown close to,” said Regan.  

Kiara Witt, 12, a standout student-athlete and member of ASB, also misses school events and activities. “I do really miss going to Friday night football games with my grandpa, athletic events, and school dances with friends,” said Witt. 

But the pandemic has done more than alter the Class of 2021’s senior year, it has also affected their planning for the future, particularly the college application process. 

According to the New York Times, “The number of high school seniors who have filled out a free application for federal student aid is down 16 percent from this time last year, and early applications from poor and first-generation students are down 10 percent.” This is linked to the challenges created by the pandemic. 

Regan, a first-generation college student, said that one of his biggest worries while applying to college in 2020 was gathering the right information without in-person help. 

Although students could not walk into the Career Center for guidance, several resources were available to lead them along the way. For example, the Career Center held numerous workshops, provided students with information through their Google Classroom, and made time to speak with them both virtually and by email. 

Witt explained she was grateful to both AVID and the Career Center for their help as she was completing her applications. Regan said, “[AVID] gave me all of the information I needed and set me up in such a way that the college applying experience was relatively easy and devoid of stress.” 

Several colleges and universities pushed back their application deadlines to accommodate any difficulties that might have arisen from COVID-19. 

According to their website, the California State University (CSU) moved its application deadline “To better serve high school and community college students facing university admissions challenges caused by COVID-19.” The University of California (UC) also pushed back its deadline.

The virus, which as of December 16th has claimed the lives of over 300,000 Americans, disrupted the lives of many across the country. The Common Application was one of the application platforms to add an optional essay about the pandemic’s effect on students’ circumstances. 

Among other aspects of the college application process affected by the pandemic are the usual SAT or ACT requirements. Many schools across the country, including the UCs and Cal States, did not require the submission of SAT scores in light of the difficulties posed by the pandemic.   

“I didn’t take the SAT, which was also one of my biggest worries about applying to college. It was a big relief to hear that the UC’s would be going test-blind this year…” said Witt. 

In fact, the University of California voted in May to phase out the SAT altogether over the next few years. According to AP News, the UCs feel that this standardized test puts “low-income students, minorities, and people with disabilities at an unfair disadvantage.”

Regan said that he disliked that some people could spend thousands of dollars on SAT preparation. “I also don’t like the way the SAT requires you to think a certain way; everyone thinks in a different, unique way, and [I do not agree with] paying money for prep to think a certain way,” said Regan. 

Although the pandemic has amplified the usual college admissions stress, many of the worries students faced before remain constant. 

“I worry about whether I have done enough to get accepted to my dream schools. It is a little intimidating seeing so many of my peers with all these amazing clubs and test scores and service hours under their belts,” said Witt. 

As the application season is coming to an end, the Class of 2021 is looking forward to the rest of their senior year.  “I am most excited about graduation, and I plan to celebrate it in any way I can with family and friends…. My advice to seniors is to seek out recommendation letters early if you are applying to privates,” said Witt. 

Regan felt that the application process is not as difficult as students may think.  “I would say the main advice is to get [the applications] done early; that’s when you have the least pressure and will hopefully work the best,” said Regan.