ETHS seniors adapt to college application season during pandemic


Daily file illustration by Catherine Buchaniec

ETHS students applying to college are navigating an application process impacted by the pandemic.

Delaney Nelson, Assistant City Editor

With Evanston Township High School remaining virtual, club meetings and school dances have all been canceled and seniors have been left without many of the memories of their last fall at the school. But one show goes on: college application season.

In some ways, the college application process looks different this year. Beth Arey, college and career counselor at ETHS, said extenuating circumstances have prompted widespread implementation of test-optional and test-flexible policies by schools across the country. In fact, approximately 70 percent of the nation’s colleges and universities are applying test-optional policies this year, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

If a school has a test-optional policy, an applicant can choose whether or not to send a test score. Arey said the college may look more heavily at a student’s extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation and personal statements. Additionally, while some schools may not require tests for admission, they might mandate scores for merit-based scholarship eligibility, Arey said.

Because of financial barriers and racial biases present in tests, the current standardized testing system creates hurdles for students in a regular year, especially for first-generation, low-income students. COVID-19 has added challenges to the process, as the frequency and availability of ACT and SAT testing has decreased. Some students have traveled to different states to take tests, but that’s often not an option for lower-income students, she said.

Carmiya Bady, ETHS senior and District 202 student representative, said most of the schools she’s applying to aren’t requiring test scores, and she doesn’t think any school should do so.

“It’s very based on class and if you have enough money, you can take it as many times as you want to get the best score that you need,” Bady said, adding that asking students to take tests can also put their health at risk.

Arey said there’s also been uncertainty among college advisors and students about whether schools are truly test-optional, or if a lack of test scores will hurt a student’s chance of admission.

Northwestern, for example, is not requiring applicants to send an ACT or SAT score for consideration this year, but has stated on their website that “if you have test scores you feel duly reflect your academic potential, we welcome them.” Arey said the university’s wording indirectly encouraged students to send in test scores.

“For kids, they think, ‘You’re telling me I need a score, and I’m going to travel three states away to take that test so that I can get in and sacrifice time, money and my health,’” Arey said. “That was an unfortunate perception to put out there from the university.”

COVID-19 restrictions have also prevented many students from visiting colleges, which Arey said can be an integral part of choosing a school. As a result, she said students have expressed more uncertainty than in previous years.

ETHS senior Frances Wharton said she had planned on seeing schools in March, but since the pandemic hit, she hasn’t yet visited any of the colleges on her list. To compensate, Wharton said she’s been reaching out to people to ask questions about the schools.

“That’s been really strange making my list of schools to apply to without even visiting any of them,” Wharton said. “All of this application stuff has been really weird, having to find all this information about these schools without being able to really go on tours.”

Despite the changes in the college application process, Arey said ETHS has seen an increase in students applying by several hundred applications. She also said more students have applied early action this year, and the school is on target with the amount of students applying to Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @delaneygnelson

Related Stories:
D65 postpones return to in-person learning
Stuck at home: Recent ETHS graduates reflect on starting college remotely
Recent study finds COVID-19 to be top issue among voters