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Privileges, Equity, and COVID-19: College Admission in the Time of Crisis

The
COVID-19 outbreak has already produced terrible effects on the entire world. We
get locked in quarantines watching the new crisis coming into power. Many
experts already talk about the new Great Depression. The virus attacked us all
– every country and every human. It does not differentiate between genders,
ages, or races. We read analytics and try to imagine the outcomes, but one
thing is sure – the world is changing. COVID-19 has become the most potent
moving force.

The
damage to high education in the USA is scary. We get news from everywhere about
closing the campuses. Students have to leave them and study online. It’s good
that such education methods are already present – it can soften the blow a
little bit.

But
college learning is not only attending classes and doing homework. It is a
system supporting students for years – campuses are their homes.

There
are meal plans, extra activities, and so on. Many students have jobs on
campuses and depend on them.

The
coronavirus outcomes become even more dreadful for the underprivileged people.

The
world hopes to beat the pandemic within a couple of months, but we’ll face its
aftermath much longer. Talks about the next admission campaign are already
circulating. It will be totally different. At the same time, we can use the new
circumstances as the opportunity of self-development.

What
we already know is that the traditional practices of admission became the
victims of COVID-19. They won’t work this year – it is for sure. Candidates
would hardly be able to visit campuses. Standard testing won’t happen. Hence,
higher education institutions must find other ways to evaluate their
candidates. The question is whether these new ways are in favor of all
students.

It
is not any secret that the idea of equal access to high education does not
stand up to reality. Many low-income families strive to give their children the
proper education, but they can’t win. This competition is not equal. It must
change if we support the idea of equity. Without the traditional means, how
would colleges decide whom to invite on campus?

It
is not a revolution – colleges discussed this problem many times in the past.
The coronavirus does not differentiate between the privileged and the
underprivileged. Perhaps, the time has come to react to the new reality it
introduced with the latest approaches for all candidates.

Let’s
consider the traditional factors that matter for college admission:

  • Early decision and action;
  • The standard testing results;
  • Personal travels to college campuses;
  • College “recruitment”;
  • The possibility to access
    college counseling;
  • The value of extracurricular
    activities;
  • The question of price.

All
these factors got a severe blow from the pandemic. Rules are forbidding
personal meetings and insisting on social distancing. Most of the traditional
methods won’t work as usual. But it does not mean they can’t work at all.

Early Application to Colleges

Let’s
talk about the Early Decisions and Early Action plans. Colleges now encourage
high school seniors to apply much earlier – in October and November instead of
March and April. As a result, such schools get enough applications before the
main wave comes. They can consider them having more time, and recruit half of
their planned number this way. When many candidates only start to apply, they
won’t have enough places.

The
early application practice is legit, but it is discriminating. It favors
students knowing about these opportunities beforehand. This way, candidates can
prepare better and get an advantage over other applicants.

Students need information. It is the factor that matters most when we speak of college admissions. Having professional college counseling is a substantial benefit, as well as the possibility to visit campuses. But resources are necessary for all these goals. Time and money become desiring factors. Needless to say, it can be out of reach for low-income students.

However,
many colleges have to close their campuses and cancel college visits due to
quarantine demands. At the same time, college counseling moves online.

On
the one hand, it ruins traditional practices. But on the other hand – it
removes lots of obstacles for applicants! When no one has to spend money to
cross half of the country and visit the campus, the chances, eventually, become
equal.

As
for the early application system, it might not be necessary. When the deadline
is standard for all applicants, they prepare in identical conditions.

The Standard Tests Results

Mandatory SAT and ACT won’t take place this March. Testing centers get closed indefinitely. In the middle of the pandemic, no one can predict when it is safe to get back to the regular testing practice.

If
the tests scheduled for June and July are at place, they won’t accept all
students – their capacities won’t be enough. Not every town has certified test
centers, causing more problems for the students. Those who meant to pass their
test in spring might need to address a different center in summer. It could be
hundreds of miles distance to reach it, and lots of unplanned costs. For
low-income high school seniors, it would make the gap even more significant.

The
SAT and ACT results are obligatory for college applications. Without them,
institutions will have to refuse too many students. However, it’d be unfair
under these circumstances. It is not the students’ fault. Thus, the question
arises: is there another way to evaluate candidates without SAT and ACT
results?

Similar
to many other cases, wealth is the key factor. If students have financial
resources, they can act in advance and find alternatives. They can hire tutors
and education consultants. But it is not the case with those who can’t afford
to spend more money. Without access to the information, such students can’t
match this challenge as they should. They might not even know about the new ACT
conditions duly.

The
problem gets worse because some private schools do have their SATs in March. At
the same time, public schools are closed, and their students get left behind.

Under such conditions, it might be worth to look for some alternatives. What might replace the SAT results? There are many variants. For instance, it could be an analysis of recommendation letters or admission essays or more attention to extracurricular activities. Many sources provide enough information about the candidate. We may not rely on the SAT data only.

Visits to Colleges

Visits
to college campuses are priceless. The students and their parents can get
answers on dozens of questions. No other source might be as useful. But it is
still all about the money.

Not
every student can pay for their travels. Many applicants consider several
colleges and visit them all, and they can be in different cities and states.
Often, families have to stay for a day or more on campus. All these factors
demand more money to spend.

Some
colleges, to their respect, have dedicated funds to pay the travel expenses to
their applicants in need. But it is not a simple process, and the opportunity
does not come for granted. There must be an application or a nomination, and it
will take time for the school to make a decision.

As
a result, many of the applicants who need college visits, can’t do that. It
would not be such a problem, of course, if colleges did not give preferences to
those who visited them. As a rule, their officers consider students’ personal
visits the most evident motivation. When they can meet the candidates in person
and talk to them, they learn more about them to invite on campus.

It
is the traditional approach ruined by COVID-19. Many colleges had to close
their campuses. Thus, the option to visit them is disabled for a while. It is
still present in some other institutions, but they allow only a limited number
of guests.

The
current situation can either favor the more privileged candidates again, or put
them all on the same footing. As the equity principle must be on top, the
system must find alternatives. Without the possibility to come to the college
in person, applicants could use online means. Virtual tours and interviews can
be as informative, and it would equalize the chances for all candidates.

Of
course, the process will require a potent computer and the Internet connection
– the resources that not everyone possesses. Still, renting such a
“communication spot” will definitely be more accessible than crossing
thousands of miles.

College Admission Officers Travels

Under
usual conditions, college representatives would already start their business
trips to meet the high school seniors. But this traditional method also became
the victim of COVID-19. Schools get closed, and such meetings are canceled.
Does it mean that such an important channel will be lost?

Such
travel results got criticized in the past. Activists noted that admission
officers tended to visit the most established schools and invite students from
wealthier circles. But the coronavirus attack can force them to change the
approaches.

Alternative
methods of digital communication can replace old personal meetings. First, they
ensure safety for all participants, and second – they are available to all
students. It won’t matter where they study (and in which country), or which
privileges they have. The opportunity to schedule a personal interview or join
the online conference with the admission officer will be accessible to
everyone.

It is time to think about all the wonders of digital progress and their help for the high education sphere. We don’t need to invent the tools from scratch. Most of them exist and work in other fields. The goal is to have a look at the usual things from a different angle. Pity that we needed the pandemic outbreak to realize it.

Access to College Counseling

The
option to address college counseling is priceless for high school seniors.
Counselors provide the essential thing – information. Access to the exhaustive,
accurate, and reliable data is the decisive factor for many.

But
the public-school sector shows the typical problem mentioned many times – most
low-income students can’t get the necessary data. They are eager to get high
education and work diligently for that. Still, the actual admission process
obviously discriminates them.

Reliable
college counseling representatives always help students with fewer resources by
getting them more opportunities. Unfortunately, there were never enough
counselors to reach all the candidates in need. It is valid for too many
public-sector schools – their students can’t get the proper counseling.

The
necessity to switch to digital learning opened the door to many other things
that can be online. College counseling is one of them. Some colleges and
universities have already offered such virtual options. If the counselors can’t
reach the schools personally, online communication is a solution.

Extracurricular Activities

Students’
activities and achievements not related to the learning itself were always
important. Admission committees considered them to evaluate their candidates.
It sometimes looks that there are “default” activities that every person aiming
to enroll in a college should do.

Discussions
have been taking place for a while about the role of extracurricular
activities. Many pundits of education note that colleges might scrutinize them
differently. In the current circumstances, it is more actual than ever.

Many
traditional facilities giving the students their extracurricular activities are
idle. It goes to sports, volunteering abroad, and many other branches. However,
should there be all in place, the “money dimension” would be there as
well. Many low-income families can’t afford to send their children abroad. Many
sports also require significant resources. Instead of being support for young
boys and girls, extracurricular activities became another barrier.

One
more factor is that the remaining opportunities might not attract as many
students as before. In the global pandemic, they have more duties in the
families.

It
is an issue that was evident long before the pandemic – colleges returned to
discussions continually. Doing certain extracurricular activities should not be
an end in itself. It should be the mark of having desired qualities for the
college student.

Then
why don’t admission committees pay as much attention to the duties their
applicants do for their families? Does working hard to support elder and
younger relatives mean less than some volunteering abroad?

The
coronavirus highlighted these contradictions. Extracurricular activities should
not be a convenient argument in favor of the privileged, wealthy students. The
college admission boards need to reconsider their real values.

The Question of Affordability

With
all the programs aimed to help low-income students, the higher education costs
remain overwhelming for most of them. This situation will definitely not change
in the nearest future, either. After the COVID-19 pandemic ends, the economy
will need much more time to overcome the crisis.

Many
student loan programs are already canceled, while the price of education
increases. Colleges, in their turn, have their needs too, and they need
resources. Due to the apparent decline in funding, the higher education field
can get into more severe troubles.

The
only way to fight these complications is to find new methods of education. We
have the latest trends in moving online for as many activities as possible. It
also gives new opportunities for colleges.

The
most obvious solution is that they could combine in-person and online classes.
Another option might be completely online courses.

By
reducing the prices for such innovative means, colleges would attract more
students – the number of places on campus won’t limit them. The quality of
higher education will become available for more people too. It can be a
“win-win” situation for all participants.

Such
means may come in the time of crisis and become regular later. Even the most
selective colleges can open their doors to those students who could never join
their communities before.

The question of the academic schedule might need revision too. In our world, no one can guarantee now that the next semester will start on time. More flexible schedules could be the right response to this challenge. With a combination of online courses, essay writing help and campus presence, students could work efficiently even during the pandemic.

Admission Re-Invented

The
outbreak will end. We can’t tell when it happens, but it will end eventually.
Its aftermath can be terrible, and more time will be necessary for the country
to overcome it. Still, the global pandemic has also stressed burning problems
that did not get recognition on the proper level.

Many
colleges and universities look for new ways to support each other and their
students. It is inspiring to see their collaboration. Perhaps, the COVID-19
outbreak could be that impulse we all needed to move to the next level.

The
higher education will find ways to treat their current and future students,
even by getting rid of some traditions. Students need assistance more than
ever.

The
pandemic crisis forces all educational systems to review their work. It may be
one of that big shocks that the society needed. The main challenge is to keep
moving forward when things come down. We should not lose the lessons that the
crisis taught us.

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