Pioneer Seniors Apply To College Amidst a Pandemic

Two years ago 93% of Pioneer seniors said that they would be attending college. For them, the process was clear and well-trod. They were able to talk to counselors, visit colleges in person, take a few standardized tests, and continue all of their activities through senior year. For the class of 2021, though, the path to college has been anything but certain and predictable.

One of the largest obstacles for the class of 2021 has been the circulation of information.  “I constantly feel out of the loop,” said Pioneer senior Brayden Bunce.  “At times I have even felt clueless about the whole process. I have gotten most of my information from my friends.” 

Another senior, Mariah Muraski, agrees. “Figuring out how to apply by myself has been isolating and sometimes I feel like I’m not old enough to handle all of this,” she said.

Bunce, Muraski, and Career Center Counselor Keith Wade consider the lack of information to be the biggest problem facing Pioneer seniors. “Not being able to have office visits not only from admissions counselors but from students day to day who can pop in and ask the questions they need to or get information on schools (is the biggest problem),” said Wade, who, among other college-related tasks, organizes the college visits to Pioneer that typically take place throughout the fall.

On the bright side, Pioneer counselors say they are in the process of making themselves more accessible. Wade also urges students to check out the College Career Center website as well as follow the center on Instagram for updates. “Everyone is trying to figure out this new virtual style of learning and the College Career Center (online) process is still a work in progress as well,” he said.

But the simple fact of school remaining online keeps a tangible barrier between seniors and the counselors, even when they do meet through Zoom. “Because of all of the uncertainty it is more important now than ever to listen to adults who know what they are talking about, but it is so much harder to pay attention in front of a computer screen,” said Muraski.

Many Pioneer seniors started to research college options long before school started but were denied the crucial information they would get from an in-person college visit. “I feel that it is somewhat unreasonable for a college to tell you that you are not allowed to visit and then still expect you to make an Early Decision (to attend that school),” said Robyn Bishop, a parent of Pioneer senior Rebecca Brewer.

This exact scenario played out for Bunce who said he changed his application plans after he learned he could not visit some colleges.  “I was hoping to apply to Johns Hopkins Early Decision, but I wasn’t confident enough in it because I could not visit,” he said.  “I had already created a list of schools before Covid, but that list may have expanded if I was able to go on college tours.”

Pioneer senior Alex McBurrows says that not being able to visit colleges has been his biggest challenge in the application process, too, because he is left unsure of whether he wants to go to school in-state or out of state. The pandemic has narrowed his list of schools. “I am only looking at schools closer to home or in nearby states because of Covid,” he said.

One potential benefit of the unprecedented cancellation of many extracurricular activities is that seniors have more time on their hands to focus on their applications. While McBurrows has felt stressed to complete his applications he says he has had more time than he might have in a regular school year that would be filled with senior social activities in addition to school work. “Being online we have a lot more breaks and time to do our homework and class assignments, so I have more time to get college stuff done (too),” he said.

While this may be the case, not everyone is convinced that more time translates to easier applications because the entire process is being managed by the students themselves. “There are certainly less distractions from college applications this year, but it is hard to theorize about whether this workload is less than with my past daughters,” said Bishop.

The extra time has even posed challenges to parents. “I have spent a lot more time with Rebecca than I would have otherwise and I have tried to let her maintain her independence and not look over her shoulder,” said Bishop.

 The amount of unstructured time has also taken a toll on seniors. “I wish I had the distraction of school because I sit and think about my college essays too much; I hate my Personal Statement right now,” said Muraski. “When online school requires you to do so much work independently, it is hard to prioritize it over college work because college is my future.”

Seniors, parents, and counselors are not the only ones living through this time of uncertainty. “I strongly believe that even the college admissions counselors would question their confidence in the new procedures so it would make sense that the students would question it as well,” said Wade.

Even after the pandemic is over, Wade believes that this time will have permanently changed the landscape of college applications. Some of these differences could be positive, like the loosening of application deadlines or requirements, but Wade also foresees colleges opting for the more cost effective virtual visits and information sessions.

“This will unfortunately eliminate the personal touch which is so important to young people making one of the biggest decisions of their early life,” he said.