Seniors give advice on challenging college application process

College application resources meant to assist in the process.

Photo used with permission from Google Commons

College application resources meant to assist in the process.

The college application and admissions process is one of, if not the most notoriously difficult step toward finishing high school for students throughout the U.S.. Given the complications the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon classes of 2020, 2021, and now 2022, not only have application requirements and opportunities been compromised but there has also been an unprecedented drop in admission rates. According to the Harvard Crimson, Harvard’s official college newspaper, the college hit a record low in its 385-year history of a mere 3.19% acceptance rate for the incoming class of 2026. 

Surrounded by the drastic drop in acceptance rates, this year’s juniors face uncertainty about their chances at admission as college applications loom overhead. With the pandemic compromising opportunities for building a solid application, such as service hours, extracurriculars, sports and leadership positions, students are discouraged from aiming for their dream school. 

Most of the class of 2022, this year’s seniors, have committed to a school and overcome this overwhelming hurdle. In the face of declining admission rates, they have worked to shape their applications to the best of their advantage regardless of these difficult circumstances. 

More schools being test-optional definitely makes it more open to lower-income students who can’t afford or don’t have access to testing, but on the other hand, it increased the amount of applications by so much, which I think ended up making schools a lot more selective this year.”

— Sammi Kimbis

A defining characteristic of the altered college application process due to COVID-19 is the implementation of test-blind and test-optional applications. “More schools being test-optional definitely makes it more open to lower-income students who can’t afford or don’t have access to testing, but on the other hand, it increased the amount of applications by so much, which I think ended up making schools a lot more selective this year,” senior Sammi Kimbis said. 

Other seniors have also found this year to be more challenging than usual. “I thought the college admissions decisions this year were very tough because there were many schools staying test-optional, ultimately causing the overall number of applicants to rise,” senior Dylan Safai said.

Without the SAT and ACT standardized tests to define yourself as an applicant when applying to increasingly selective schools, the decision lies heavily on different aspects of your student life. Highly considered are the essay, grade point average, and extracurricular activities; however, with such unpredictable decisions and admissions, soon-to-be applicants are under immense pressure to create an outstanding application.

Senior Sophie Zarate said she advises that students write about something you are passionate about. “The essay is a crucial part of the application process, but you shouldn’t overthink it too much. Write something you are passionate about. Something you love to do, your background story, or something you know that will make you stand out,” senior Sophie Zarate said.

Other seniors seem to be in general agreement that their personal essays were a large deciding factor this year on their successful admission into their target and dream universities. “I thought the defining aspect of my application that made me stand out to admissions officers was my main essay where I discussed my fascination with paradigms of power,” Safai said.

However, this is not to say that stats are not a large determinant of admission; while the personal essay is a way to define your unique personality and passions to admission officers, stats on your achievements as a student and how you have defined your personal course throughout high school are what admissions officers look to determine your potential in academic accomplishments at their school.  “Overall though, I’d say for most people the main aspect of their application that helps them stand out is their extracurriculars,” Safai said.

This stage in a high school student’s career may seem like a life-or-death ordeal, a deciding factor in the course of the rest of their entire lives. While applications can be overwhelming, it’s important to remember that these decisions are not the end of the world. There are a multitude of options later on in your school career beyond undergraduate admission; this decision will not determine your career path’s success or failure.