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Applying For College: Another Ritual Upended By Pandemic

A student walks by Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union at San Diego State University, Sept. 24, 2016.
A student walks by Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union at San Diego State University, Sept. 24, 2016.

Frank Granda, a senior at Serra High School in San Diego’s Tierrasanta neighborhood, planned out his high school career so he’d be a competitive applicant to colleges and universities across the country.

The pandemic, however, has thrown a wrench in these plans and created even more uncertainty for students during an already stressful time.

Applying For College: Another Ritual Upended By Pandemic
Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

“Your grades are now muddled because the grading system changed abruptly,” Granda said. “You can’t take the standardized tests, and you have to adapt your extracurricular activities to the pandemic.”


RELATED: San Diego Unified Delays In-Person Learning Due To COVID-19 Surge

Meanwhile, college admissions officers are navigating their own uncertainty.

The pandemic canceled all college visits and in-person tours. And though universities have been holding virtual events for prospective students, admissions officers say they fall short.

“Actually being on a campus, gives you that 'aha!’ moment,” said Stefan Hyman, associate vice president of enrollment management at San Diego State University. “That’s challenging for students, and we absolutely feel for students having to make a decision without necessarily having that kind of experience.”

Admissions officials also said they’re spending more time assessing applications this year and taking time to consider students’ experiences during the pandemic.


“These are difficult and unprecedented times impacting every student applicant, some directly and more significantly,” said LeShane Saddler, director of admissions at UC San Diego. “Our holistic review process provides an opportunity to recognize and acknowledge not only traditional measures of achievement, leadership, involvement and talent but also challenge and resiliency in the face of adversity.”

RELATED: For Teachers, Taking A Day Off During Distance Learning Comes With Big Challenges

Another reason admission officers must take a more holistic approach is that most universities are making standardized tests optional this year, which they say is a change for the better.

At the University of San Diego, the decision to not consider test scores seems to have led more students to apply.

“Not considering test scores may be made USD an option either because they weren’t able to take the test or they weren’t satisfied with their score,” said Stephen Pultz, the assistant vice president for enrollment at the USD. “For all those reasons, I think we were hopeful we would see an uptick in applications, and in the early going that seems to be the case.”

The application deadline for USD, San Diego State and the entire Cal State system is Dec. 15. The deadline for the University of California system is Friday, Dec. 4.