“At this point, I’m going to have to go test-optional.” Such jokes echo in the halls of Ridgewood High School as students discuss their SAT and ACT scores. Test preparation, as most people acknowledge, is a grueling, exhausting process. Yet, thanks to the pandemic, students now have the option to omit their test scores from college applications. Inconsistent modifications and frequent cancellations have led countless colleges to offer the test-optional policy. Several colleges also try to lessen discrimination—looking less at legacy, more towards accepting people of all racial demographics—especially since the pandemic deepened the wealth gap.
However, even with these “improvements,” acceptance has plummeted since 2020. More students applied due to the test-optional policy, especially to more prestigious universities. According to Forbes magazine, Harvard’s acceptance rate dropped to 3.4% with a 43% increase in applications and Columbia’s to 3.7% with a 51% increase between 2020 and 2021. For those investing so much time and energy into the college process, however—a phenomenon seen especially among Ridgewood students—these numbers have not helped their outlook on their futures.
“Combined with the stress of the pandemic, [college admissions] just made my life so much more exhausting. There are moments when I wonder if I’m good enough for some colleges with my scores because the competition for those colleges has risen,” one junior at RHS states. Still, other students believe COVID-19 to have a lesser impact on college admissions. Lila Batley, another junior, remarks, “I actually don’t think COVID has changed my outlook that much on college admissions to be honest. I’ve always had high standards for myself, and I think COVID and being remote showed me how much harder I have to work coming out of the pandemic.” One thing remains clear, however: the pandemic has not made the college admissions process any easier.
To assuage these worries, Ridgewood High School offers Freshman and Senior F.O.C.U.S., along with generous help from the guidance staff. Teachers have been another source of reassurance, telling their students that everyone walks their own path at their own pace, that the U.S. News ranking is not completely accurate. Such guidance has helped students like Batley, who tells me, “I think it’s helpful to remind myself that wherever I end up is where I’m supposed to be. I also think wherever I get in doesn’t completely define me because the system is often flawed.” The anonymous student also mentioned that his “self worth doesn’t hinge as much on college admissions.” But because the pandemic has shaken up academic and financial situations in many households, we must stay vigilant about how students handle college admissions. Positive ideas like the ones above can be reinforced every day on the walls or over the loudspeaker. RHS can also set up a couple of extra seminars about college to provide more answers to anxious questions. Ridgewood has been on a good path; we just need to make sure the pandemic does not hinder that trajectory.
Graphic: Sunny Rhew