Post-Covid College Admissions: A Senior’s New Hell 


Brandon Steffan, Contributor

As the sounds of students scrambling to get to class fill the halls of San Rafael High once again, the deadlines for college applications draw closer. Aspiring college students are having their already stressful year increase tenfold in the wake of COVID. 

Students’ new normal is disrupted, as they shift back to in-person school once again. Outside of the comfort of their home, far away from the harsh glare of a computer screen, students have to now turn their focus to admissions deadlines that draw steadily closer.

“They are under a pressure cooker,” said SR math teacher Mr. Ortiz. “Covid has done a lot of damage. Everyone is isolated in a silo.”

With the omission of test scores, seniors at San Rafael were already under the impression that this year, the process of admission would be less stress-inducing. Many seemed to overlook the effects that COVID had on internships, jobs, and just general socialization. 

“The most stressful part is figuring out where I want to go,”  San Rafael High senior Finn O’Neill explained. 

O’ Neill feels that finding the right fit and path for his passions will be difficult to accomplish. There is a great amount of pressure to know what you will do later on in your life, beginning in high school when you are much too young to make such a decision. 

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, many UC colleges have chosen to do away with ACT and SAT scores, however, some private colleges are solely accepting students who provide test scores. 

“COVID has slowed the process down by postponing standardized tests,” O’Neill said. He is within the minority of students who have chosen to take their tests this year with the hopes of a high score carrying them through to their target schools. 

“I don’t like doing college apps but understand that they are necessary to get into college. It’s not a fun process,” said SR Senior Kailash Shah.

The college application process would, in prior years, have consisted of doing well on your standardized tests, getting good grades, and doing extracurricular activities that would “look good” to admissions officers. 

Now, in 2021, the process has shifted to accommodate gaps in the students’ applications. Admissions officers place a higher emphasis on essays and personal fit since many students were unable to continue volunteer hours or their jobs over the course of COVID. 

The college admissions process is a long and convoluted path, and many of the seniors at San Rafael High are either unaware of or choose to put off essential requirements for this process. Many are lacking the knowledge and/or the resources to support them.

The College and Career Center at SR, better known as the CCC, offers explanations as well as guidance about the entirety of the process. Ms. Cifuentes, a counselor here, offered some advice in order to best prepare the seniors of 2022. 

“Check your emails,” she said. The CCC offers programs and an immense amount of support to answer questions along with  “Students just need to put in work,” Cifuentes reiterated. 

The College and Career Center provides help with letters of recommendation, scholarship information, help with writing applications, through their college meetings. Ms. Cifuentes was extremely eager to assist everyone who came for help, with students even coming up for help during our interview. 

“I was the first in my family to go to college, it was difficult to navigate college systems,” she explained. “If a student doesn’t have at-home support, I sit down and help them individually. I stop everything I am doing to offer one on one support.”

This viewpoint was echoed by Mr. Ortiz, who believed strongly in 10,000 Degrees, a program that helps students, especially lower-income, get the support they need to attend a four-year college. “It’s free, and prepares [students] early,” Ortiz said in reference to the program. 

Shah regrets not utilizing the CCC earlier in his high school career and feels that there he missed out on help.

“I didn’t know that it offered so many helpful opportunities with scholarships and college app help,” he said. “If I could go back I definitely would have gone to the CCC more and get more opportunities.” 

Some students are fortunate enough to have outside support, however, this still doesn’t mean that the college process is a walk in the park. “I have people I can reach out to discuss whether I would like a campus or school,” said O’Neill. “My sister has helped me as well because she did her apps only two years ago.” 

Shah has also sought out external help, again through family. “I plan on getting more help from family members as I complete more applications,” he said. 

Even with outside help, both students still have concerns about the process, and about their upcoming future in college. “College apps are terrifying,” O’Neill said. 

“The most stressful part for me about college apps is the essays. I don’t know how my essays will come off to admissions offices,” Shah mentions. 

With a record amount of college applications submitted this prior year, colleges are struggling to admit students, according to the Los Angeles Times. Competitive college admission rates have plummeted, as tens of thousands of students vie for such a selective spot. USC was reported to be down 4% from a 16% admission rate, with some ivy leagues, such as Columbia and Harvard, dipping under 5%. 

As students begin their college applications, and some may even be finalizing them, it is unclear how competitive this year will be, and how students will have to struggle.