College, Confusion, and the Coronavirus

by Steph Gratiano

News

May 7, 2020

Eleven days before the deposit deadline, I had no idea what school to pick.

I’d managed to narrow the pool down to three, and that’s where it had stayed. Every attempt to rule out any more failed spectacularly. At least if the schools were similar, the decision might have felt more arbitrary. Alas, each school was wildly different, ranging from small liberal arts programs to huge research universities. 

So I sought out the help of my elders. 

“I don’t know where to go to college,” I texted my middle school friend, who is currently a rising junior at Clark University. 

He was sympathetic, and to his credit, did offer some great advice about making a decision. The issue arose when he talked about what had ultimately made up his mind: “My application reader liked my essay so much, she reached out to me personally. They invited me to a selective sleepover [for] accepted students too.”

The only sleepover I’ll be having in the near future is sleeping over twelve hours a night. 

The coronavirus affected my college experience in a “standard” way, if anything about this situation can be described as standard. I was indecisive, I couldn’t do revisit days — parents and students alike have been tittering about this since schools began going online. So while my situation was certainly frustrating, it was also completely expected. Meanwhile, students who applied to some schools overseas experienced this problem on a macroscale. Not only could they not attend revisit days, they couldn’t even visit the countries the schools are in. Juniors who were planning to tour schools and begin putting their college lists together have also been foiled by the shutdowns. 

Social distancing hasn’t just had an impact on touring options. Events like sleepovers, in-person meetings, and panels have been cancelled as well, making it harder even for those who already made their decisions to move forward with their freshman year planning. Maria Levit ‘20 made her choice quickly after receiving her admission decision, but now struggles to befriend her new peers in a strictly online format. “I’m in my school’s Facebook group, but I don’t really know how to talk to people there. Being able to visit campus and meet people would have been a really big relief, and I think it would have helped me a lot,” she says. 

Without in-person meetings, not only does she have to worry about not being familiar with anyone, but figuring out roommate options has also become near impossible for her. “It would have been really nice to have a roommate whom I knew, as opposed to being a random person. Because obviously, that’s a huge concern, you know, I think for anybody. You’re gonna be living with this random person for a year. You ideally want someone you get along with. Honestly, this has impacted me so much to the point where I’m intentionally picking singles in the housing options.”

Of course, live events are only one element of the college process that have been upended. Admission requirements, such as grades and test scores, are also a source of confusion. Many juniors planned to take their SAT and subject tests this summer, but the virus has caused the College Board to cancel their June testing date, making August the only date available before the fall semester begins.¹ The June and July ACT are currently planned to proceed as scheduled, but those who planned to take the ACT in April were forced to reschedule.²

On March 27, Boston University announced its credit/no credit grading option. The Academy followed suit with a policy of its own on April 23, which stated that “as long as students remain engaged and committed to their studies, we will not allow the online learning format of the last quarter to lower their grade.” While these policies were made to afford students more flexibility while forced to study in less-than-ideal environments, fears over college admissions have prevented many from taking advantage. 

“It’s a difficult decision to make, because college admissions might just read credits as Cs,” Anna Dzhitenov ‘20 explains. Though she does want to use the credit option for some classes, she doesn’t think the college office would recommend it. “For myself, where my grades have fallen enough to impact my GPA, but not so much that I’m near failing, I feel like they would prefer if I kept my grade as it is.” 

When asked if he’d take advantage of the new grading policies, Tim Pinkhassik ‘21 said he “would, if it didn’t look really bad for colleges.” Tim is dealing with an additional struggle on top of studying at home: the cheating scandal that’s come to be known as “Cheggate.” In response to widespread online cheating, some professors in the BU chemistry department have reportedly made their tests much harder — the average on Tim’s last Organic Chemistry Two exam was a 66%, even with the questions available on Chegg, an educational website offering a tutoring service and textbook solutions. “Other classes have been hit by this too,” he says. “Differential Equations was notorious for being a really easy class to do well in if one just studied a lot. You could get As if you scored more than 70 points on the exams. But now, because of cheating, the grade scale is just 93 and above is an A.” Between harder exams, concern over college’s view on credit/no credit marks, and studying at home, Tim believes his admissions chances for some of his reach schools have grown increasingly slim. He’s still planning to apply, but is now “confident he won’t get in.” 

Since going online, Tim’s Academy classes have also started giving fewer assessments that count for less, which has made it difficult to improve grades from last semester. With the new Academy policy, he feels frustrated that people with high grades from the start of the semester can fall back on the “no lower grades” promise to put in less effort, despite the disclaimer on engagement and commitment. While he admits that some people will always be able to put in less effort and get higher grades, now, “no one really knows what teachers are grading and how.” 

Things are looking rather unpleasant as we bring the year to a close, especially with rumors of an online fall semester growing increasingly rampant. But there has been at least one positive outcome to at-home learning and delayed tests: students have more time to reflect on what it is they really want to do for the next four years. Tati Kong ‘21 is still looking at more traditional colleges, but now, she’s also thinking about the Air Force Academy. “With the virus, I have a lot of free time to think. I kind of find myself thinking about what makes me happy, and Air Force seems like it would. I think the biggest impact the virus has had on me is just giving me time to reflect on who I want to be and how I’m gonna present myself in the college process.” 

I won’t insult the students reading this by reiterating yet another round of “these are unprecedented times,” or by pretending everyone can find a bright spot in this. I will, however, say that if you’re having any concerns about the way college admissions, your transcript, or your applications will look because of this mess, talk to the college office. They can only give general advice when addressing fifty kids, but they’re happy to provide guidance for your specific situation during a one-on-one communication. Even if they can’t answer your question about a particular school or issue, they can contact a BUA alum who can. This is how I was ultimately saved from the grips of my indecision, and I put down a deposit one whole day early. 

And they say everyone’s procrastinating.


¹ “2019-2020 SAT Dates,” College Board, accessed May 5, 2020,
https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/register/dates-deadlines.

² “The ACT Test,” ACT, accessed May 5, 2020,
https://www.act.org/content/act/en/products-and-services/the-act/registration.html#dates.

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