To a certain extent, many college admission committees are living in a COVID-dominated world while still playing by rules that predate the onset of COVID. As a college admission consultant, I have had the honor of working with students whose talents extend far beyond the academic realm. I have represented excellent athletes, extraordinary artists, and highly talented musicians who may also be highly intelligent, hard-working students who have earned high GPAs and test scores. I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating it is to have to indicate two-year gaps in their most important activities knowing that colleges may perceive this as a lack of commitment, or a lack of passion for an activity that would otherwise be a strong checkmark in their admission score sheet. It is easy to say that, at the very least, a one-to two-year gap in an activity will weaken a student’s application if even to a minor extent. Yet, in elite college admission, sometimes it is the small things that separate an acceptance letter from a rejection letter.
When you think about it, almost everything that is social, collaborative, or competitive in nature has been nonexistent since March, 2020, when images of the COVID virus went viral. Athletes stopped being athletes. Performers stopped being performers. Orchestra musicians continued to rehearse but were unable to showcase their musical prowess. Virtually all college classes for high school students became virtual, internship programs were canceled, and elite level academic competition, summer programs, and after school programs were either canceled or abruptly switched to an online format. In short, many of the things that could serve to differentiate elite level college candidates went off-line in 2020 and 2021, effectively evening the field due to insufficient data. Add to this the necessity of going test optional due to sporadic testing opportunities and what you end up with is a puddle of undifferentiated candidates, among which reside some of the most talented students in the nation who lost out on their opportunity to separate themselves from the field with their extraordinary gifts.
However, with their can-do attitude, resourcefulness, and perspicacity, college admission committees found a way to surmount the obstacles placed in their way of making accurate decisions regarding the make-up of their freshman cohorts. Simply stated, they began to read between the lines. They connected the information they were given with tenuous strands of conjecture strengthened by first person narratives and essays, and third person observations and evaluations. If activity gaps existed, they used written words to determine whether the gap was due to a lack of passion or lack of opportunity. They looked even deeper into essays and recommendations for carbon deposits that did not have the opportunity to become diamonds, and deposits of gold as yet uncovered. They looked between the lines for students who took extraordinary steps to replace their beloved activities, to enhance their skills, or to showcase their talents.
As much as rising high school students will covet the return of the activities that they love and through which they can demonstrate their excellence inside and outside of the academic spectrum, college admission committees will welcome back the days of data driven decisions enhanced by, and not determined by, intangible factors. Even though there are some who say that the college admission landscape has been forever changed by COVID-19, I do not believe this is the case. I believe that in the post-COVID era, college admission will snap back like an elastic band to the status quo of 2019, in which grades, test scores, and activities were at the front of the line of importance in the hearts and minds of admission committees everywhere.
by Neil Chyten