For many students, college is a critical time in their lives. It is the time where each individual adjusts to adulthood and can focus on the studies they enjoy while setting up their future for success.
However, when the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic hit, it sent many college aspirers into a panic. Questions about grades, extracurriculars, and standardized tests started to rise from almost every high school student.
Kaitlyn Kwan, a sophomore, said, “I’m not a fan of the credit/no credit policy, because I work hard for my grades. I feel like now my hard work has gone to waste. My plans for college have not changed, but I still am worried about the pandemic because it limits my learning and extracurriculars.”
Many colleges responded to the voices of concern and began to make changes to their application policies.
According to ABC News, the University of California (UC) system has already implemented two significant changes. One is the suspension of the letter grade requirement for A-G courses, and the second is the suspension of the standardized testing requirements.
Han Mi Yoon-Wu, the UC director of undergraduate admissions, said, “We know there’s never been uniformity in how grades are awarded across schools and districts. We will use the available information, and if schools want to provide their students with just a short statement, that they can insert into their application, to let us know what policy that individual school took, that will help our readers to understand the context of the grades seen when they apply.”
Yoon-Wu enforces the idea that letter grades will still be viewed but with a lesser impact, lowering the stress and anxiety students may be experiencing; however, many students continue to wonder: is optional truly optional?
Yoon-Wu ensures that optional test scores, such as the SAT or ACT, included in a student’s application, will provide application readers with additional information. In contrast, students who don’t include these test scores won’t have anything deducted from their application; however, it is still recommended to take the test.
Lauren Cook, a dean at the Jewish Community High School, said, “The first step is to take the test if it’s available to you.”
Cook encourages students to take the test and submit it with the guidance of an admission representative or guidance counselor, especially if a student chooses to apply to Ivy League schools.
College applicant readers in the UC system use comprehensive review, highlighting the importance of extracurriculars and one’s motivations, instead of test scores and grades. Cook also presses the importance of the four question narrative that UCs require.
“You need to think about what four things you most want to get across about yourself and try and select questions that allow you to address those topics, you have to think as if you’re your own best PR agent,” Cook said.
Yoon-Wu also emphasizes this point and encourages students to write about their motivations and achievements.
Aside from essays, Cook recommends that students do activities that they are already invested in and continue to pursue things that make them happy, such as taking online courses over the summer on subjects they are interested in, which can also help boost their GPA.
However, college admission experts all press on one common thing: grades are not everything. Instead, focus on things that matter to you and make you happy.