NORTH METRO ATLANTA, Ga. — Chattahoochee High School senior Jennifer Zhou had it all figured out. 

She was signed up to take the SAT for the first time in March and slated to study chemistry at the Governor’s Honors Program at Berry College in June. She was prepared for upcoming state and national competitions for Science Olympiad and Quiz Bowl. 

But when the coronavirus pandemic cancelled everything, she was in limbo. 

For rising seniors nationwide, this summer was their last chance to bulk up resumes for college application season. The pandemic postponed internships, affected access to school counselors and disrupted standardized testing schedules.

More than 400 schools, including the Ivy League, have become test-optional, meaning that students can apply without an SAT or ACT score. However, not all schools have waived their requirement.

Zhou, who was initially worried about securing a test date, has decided to forgo standardized testing, because she believes that it is short-sighted for the College Board to continue testing during a pandemic. 

“At least for me, an extra data point is not worth risking the safety of me or my family, especially given the current state of Georgia,” Zhou said. 

Finding other avenues

Instead, Zhou has kept busy working on other aspects of her application. She studied chemistry online at Harvard Summer School and drafted application essays. Although she was able to skirmish other Quiz Bowl teams online, she laments that she never got a chance to compete on a bigger stage. 

 “None of us got to go to State or Nationals,” Zhou said. “So I guess my extracurriculars are a bit weaker because I never had a chance to show how I had improved over the year.” 

Zhou is not alone. 

Manasi Oleti, a senior at Denmark High School, planned on touring her top choices. She also had interviews scheduled with local hospitals for internships and plans to ask teachers for recommendations. When remote learning was implemented in March, it affected her access to school resources. She said that although she has good relationships with her teachers, asking for recommendations over the phone will be impersonal. Denmark’s counseling team had not yet gotten to discussing college applications with her class. 

“I don’t feel like we had as much guidance as we needed before we went online,” Oleti said. “So, hopefully they’ll be providing us with more information soon.” 

Since January, she has been working with a private college counselor who has advised her on essays and general application tips. After the pandemic disrupted Oleti’s plans, her counselor pivoted to assisting her on applying to remote programs Oleti could use to fill the gap. 

One of these programs was Emory University’s Summer Scholars Research Program at the Winship Cancer Institute. Although Oleti was not selected as a scholar, she attended their seminars for six weeks online. For her, a private counselor has played a larger role in her college process than her school counselor. 

Alternative counseling sources

Amita Sanghvi is a local college counselor who has spent 15 years tutoring and advising students in North Fulton. She takes on clients as early as the summer before their freshman year and helps craft personalized college plans that fit their goals. After March, Sanghvi saw a rise in the number of families interested in her services. 

“I have had a rush of students come at that time because of counselors not being there at school,” she said. “Or they are not being able to do internships or what they have planned.” 

Coupled with fears of not having standardized test scores, she said her students were worried about how they would show colleges how they had been proactive during a quarantine summer. Sanghvi recommended hosting drives to donate PPE to hospitals and tutoring younger students through Zoom. 

Although she has been able to help certain rising seniors fill the gap in their resumés, the standardized testing is out of her hands. She still has seniors who do not have a score who are looking to apply to school who have not waived the requirement. The advice she now gives to the students that are underclassmen: get started early.

“Prepare yourselves beforehand and gather things that you need to put on your resumé beforehand so that we are not waiting until the 11th grade to find things to put on our resumé,” Sanghvi said. 

She predicts that the college process will change due to the pandemic and hopes admissions officers take into account the limitations quarantine has set on prospective applicants.

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