Deciding on the Right College During COVID-19 Requires Students and Schools to Adapt to New Ways of Thinking

Listening to the candid and moving reflections given by a panel of our senior students last month was especially poignant during this time of uncertainty; especially heartening was learning of their readiness for what lies ahead.

Seven of our wonderful and accomplished seniors took part in an online panel in mid-April and shared candid and moving reflections on their Catlin Gabel experience. This annual event, sponsored by the Parent Faculty Association, is always a Spring highlight, but especially this year, as these seniors focused on their appreciation for their teachers and classmates, as well as the value of their education even while being confined at home. Their messages were a heartwarming reminder of the resilience that all our seniors have shown during this pandemic.

Seniors Ready to Launch into College

It has been another highly successful year for our college applicants, supported by their families and our college counselors, Blythe and Bill. In a few short months, these promising young people will begin their next chapter at a wide range of colleges and universities, and for all the nostalgia we heard from the panel, it was evident that not only do they feel ready but they can hardly wait.

While the college admission process is not yet fully complete, our 79 seniors are considering admission offers from more than 125 colleges in 30 states and 4 countries.

As they make their final choices, we’re especially grateful to our recent graduates. Bill and Blythe reached out to these alumni to see if they’d be willing to connect with seniors and share their college experiences with them since on-campus visits are not possible. Within a week, over 100 alumni offered to help. Their insights were especially helpful to students who were still grappling with which university would best fit their current interests and long-term goals.

Significant Changes Now and in the Future for College Admission

On their end, college admission officers are focused on enrolling full classes with talented new students, recognizing that families may now need more financial assistance. More students are being placed on wait lists and financial aid budgets are being increased, as institutions take a conservative approach to predicting how many accepted students will enroll. They have worked to develop creative and personal communications to stay connected with their admitted pool of students. This is especially important now as typical methods of finalizing the application process, including visit events for both admitted and prospective students are canceled.

For college applicants in subsequent years, more significant changes are either underway or being considered. Like many private and public institutions around the country, Oregon public universities have changed their applications for next year to “testing results optional,” no longer requiring SAT or ACT scores from prospective students. Colleges have long known that grade point averages and test scores offer limited insights into a student’s potential to succeed both in college and after graduation. In the near term, admission officers will have to manage the mix of pass/fail and letter grades that high schools are using on transcripts during this spring of remote learning. Over time, the disruption caused by COVID-19 may inspire all colleges and universities to evaluate how they identify students would be “a good fit” for their institution.

Partnerships Make a Difference

As colleges and universities grapple with these short- and long-term issues, we are grateful for the humanity that our higher ed colleagues bring to their work. The long odds of admission at the most selective colleges may suggest that admission officers see students as files and numbers. That is simply not true, and even less true this spring. These skilled professionals care deeply about helping young people achieve their potential. They are dedicated to making thoughtful decisions that serve the applicants and their institutions well, and many are parents themselves, trying to juggle the many facets brought on by the pandemic.

We have been moved in recent weeks by the warmth, flexibility, and understanding that our seniors have experienced as they make these important decisions in uncertain times. From the recent grads paying it forward to responsive college administrators, our students will continue to benefit from the continuity and partnership we foster within our community and beyond.