College Coronavirus Craziness

A look into Stuyvesant’s college admissions process, how it’s changed because of the pandemic, and what we can expect in the future.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

It’s that time of year again. Everybody feels slightly nauseous, bleary-eyed seniors come to school in a haze, and the whole building reeks with five-days-a-week dreariness. No, we’re not talking about flu season, we’re talking about a far more dreaded Stuyvesant yearly occurrence: college season. As October wears on, the all-too-real college application process looms large. Do Stuyvesant seniors have what it takes to weather the storm, this time on the back end of a pandemic?

Director of Stuyvesant’s College Office Jeffrey Makris offered his knowledge on the process, and detailed what has changed since the onset of COVID. “The two biggest shifts that have happened in the admissions world would be the availability of ways to virtually engage colleges. Some of that existed before, but that exploded—virtual info sessions, virtual tours, webinars,” he explained. While the future remains uncertain, Makris added that he feels the virtual component of the college application process will remain in place even after the pandemic––colleges realized it is simply too expensive and inconvenient to rely on students to travel. An anonymous senior shared this gratitude for virtual tours: “I appreciated that colleges held so many virtual information sessions and many of the college fairs were quite accessible.”

Another effect of the pandemic has been the newfound popularity of test-optional admissions. “For this year, I think we’re probably going to be looking at a similarly high application volume at [Ivy Leagues]. Selectivity doesn’t seem to scare people away, but having to submit high test scores did seem to be a deterrent for some populations of students,” Makris said. The anonymous senior agrees: “I thought that the COVID accommodations were satisfying […] In terms of the applications themselves, many schools kept the optional testing policy, which I think is helpful to students that didn’t get a chance to take it,” he said. Senior Olivia Tedesco echoed Makris’s statements, explaining that the pandemic has increased college accessibility. “The pandemic has allowed me to learn more about colleges virtually. College information has become more universally available, even if that means acceptance rates are dropping,” she said.

However, the relatively recent shift to test-optional applications has raised alarm about declining acceptance rates. As the anonymous senior shared, “I feel that COVID is somewhat of a tradeoff in terms of admissions. One on hand, many schools have had lower admission rates as many more kids apply. On the other hand, accessibility isn’t a bad thing. I think that it can be daunting to see these dropping admission rates, but all you can do is try your best,” he said. Long-term, Makris feels the test-optional movement will continue to gain steam because of the new opportunities it provides for all applicants. “Colleges found that when you go test-optional, you typically get more applicants and more diverse applicants [...] You can diversify your population, you become more selective, your average scores for students typically increase,” he said. Senior Maxwell Seto echoes Markis’s sentiment, saying, “The test-optional addition helps in more ways than one in my opinion. Outside of COVID, there are many factors that play into one's test score and it is less holistic than it may seem.” While test scores can help illuminate certain aspects of a student, there has been a growing sentiment that it is not a puzzle piece that should be required for every applicant’s picture.

Makris also touched on how admission officers are handling students who have been detrimentally affected by the pandemic, whether it is through a parent’s unemployment or, even worse, the loss of a family member. “Their challenge is to understand the context of the applicant and their high school, particularly for the regions most impacted by COVID [...] It’s very clear that admissions officers overall understand us, and they are all trying to be as fair as they can given all these additional challenges that everybody faces,” he said. An example of this sympathy is the Common App’s new addition of the COVID-19 section, a specific space for applicants to describe how “community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters” impacted them.

In any college season, and especially one with this much uncertainty, students are bound to feel anxious. Seto bravely admits, “Of course, I am more worried about this year's college application process because I feel that there is more competitiveness than previous years. Because of the nature of our school as well, it is difficult to find solace at times.” However, in the words of Makris, “It’s important to remember that the sky didn’t fall.” If any students relate to Seto’s sentiment, Makris reminds us that the college office is always there: “Remember to ask for help when you need it […] That is a sign of strength and insight to know when you need help and ask for it rather than just struggle in silence.” Tedesco agrees: “The Stuyvesant College Office has also helped me to finalize my application list as well, and it’s nice to hear that their door is always open.”

Though many students have the date November 1 ingrained in their heads, some, such

as senior Devin Deng, feel as though they are in a more fortunate position, “I don’t think COVID has changed the way I apply for colleges […] I’m not that stressed. I think the seniors last year had an even better process because of the free time they had to complete applications.”

Whether you’re unruffled like Deng or as stressed as can be, it is important to know your value as a student. Makris points to his copy of Frank Bruni’s 2015 book “Where You Go is Not Who You’ll Be.I display that cheesily for a reason [...] A lot of times at schools like Stuyvesant, we treat college like its life or death, and it really is not,” he said “Where you go doesn't define you, it's your talents and your engagement. What you do in the workforce, that’s what leads to success, not what college you go to.”