“For the SAT and ACT, I’ve had, I believe two or three tests canceled,” Michaela Tse from Matthews, North Carolina, said.
Charlotte residents Jacob Desalegn and Winifred Tettey had similar experiences. Desalegn said that even his study groups for the tests have been canceled as a result of the pandemic. Tettey said she was upset about not having the opportunity to retake tests, as doing so would give her the opportunity to improve her overall score.
Avid preparation and repeated test-taking has long been standard for high school students. Increasing competition over the years has elevated the standards of achievement that colleges require of their students.
But this admissions cycle, some universities have adapted testing standards.
Associate Director of Admissions Michael Davis is responsible for undergraduate student recruitment at the University. Davis said the UNC System has adjusted to the current situation and waived test score requirements for fall 2021.
Students had mixed reactions to this decision.
“I had to search up every single school I was applying to to make sure they were test-optional," Zach Smith from Asheville said.
Smith said he feels his scores do not accurately represent him as a student.
Similarly, Smrithi Tirumalapudi, a Charlotte resident, said the testing waiver is a welcome accommodation to relieve students of stress, especially while they balance other aspects of the application process.
But some students wonder what would happen if they chose to not submit their test scores. Tettey said she is considering not submitting her scores.
“I feel like your academics don’t prove who you are as a person,” Tettey said.
And when thinking about her whole application, Tettey said she asks herself: “Are you good enough for this school?”
Davis said that this question is common for many students in the application process.
Davis analogized the optional test scores this year to supplemental test scores like the AP test scores or the SAT subject tests. And the scores are only one factor of the application, Davis said.
“They are so much more than their test scores or grades, and I think that the pandemic has only heightened some of those concerns,” he said.
Many students said it’s difficult to balance high school and the college application process.
“Normally, I would have more motivation if I was actually going to school,” Gabe Plitt, a student in Asheville, said about the application process.
Tettey said the biggest challenge of doing work at home is dealing with distractions — especially her phone.
“Nobody’s there to discipline you, so you have to discipline yourself – but it’s hard,” she said,
Likewise, staying at home can create time management struggles.
Tirumalapudi said it was hard to distinguish between the many aspects of her life now that most everything she does takes place at home.
“There’s very little distinction between school time and 'not school' time because everything is happening from home, and it makes it a lot more difficult to manage ‘not school’ responsibilities,” Tirumalapudi said.
But despite the challenges, many students are staying determined.
“COVID has been a great precursor for how I’ll handle hardships in the future,” Smith said.
Smith, who recently implemented a mentorship program at his high school, said this time has reminded him of how important it is to get involved in a community to uplift each other.
Many students said they are motivated by their community and the idea of who they will be following their high school graduation.
“I’m honestly just picturing myself at Chapel Hill,” Tse said. “I wanted to manifest it and picture it so it would happen.”
Desalegn said his main source of motivation is his mother, who he has watched work hard to support him for his entire life. He said the application process has given him the chance to engage in introspection.
“Applying to college is obviously stressful, but actually, it’s been fun in a way because it’s allowed me to deeply search within myself, especially in these essays, what moves me, what drives me, to do what I want to do in the future,” Desalegn said.
Desalegn said he is applying to UNC because of the potential opportunities awaiting him.
“It would be a next step to reaching further goals of becoming a doctor as well, so I feel like I’m taking a leap into a life that is to come,” Desalegn said.
Moving onward and upward
Several students expressed a hopefulness for the future.
With the recent unrest at UNC – from racial injustice and concerns for reopening in the pandemic – students had a range of hopes for what could change at the University by the time they might attend.
Tettey said that, as a Ghanaian woman, coming to UNC could be a way for her to build connections and community for herself.
She also said that she hopes the University will address head-on the issues of racism within the school.
“I want schools to be proud of their students, especially their minority students, and not just for their Black students but also for other people of color,” Tettey said.
Interim Chief Diversity Officer Sibby Anderson-Thompkins said UNC celebrates first-year students of color through the Achieving Carolina Excellence Program.
The ACE program is designed to assist students from underrepresented populations with their transition to the University and to ensure their emotional, social and academic success.
Tirumalapudi said she recognizes that the fight for racial equity in the University may be difficult.
“But I think there’s a lot of value in being able to acknowledge those concerns and acknowledge those roots and make amends and do better,” Tirumalapudi said.
She said communication will be key in regards to coming to campus in the fall. She also hopes the University will care about her and her classmates as people and not just the money they represent.
“These students need and deserve the support we can provide always, but especially now during the pandemic,” Anderson-Thompkins said in a statement via UNC Media Relations. “We are committed to facilitating a successful transition as they join the Carolina community.”
As they wrap up early action applications this week, Davis said he is extremely proud of all graduating high school seniors, especially this year.
“They have so much that they’re going to do in the future that we’re excited about, and I just can’t wait to see how the world changes based on what they do,” Davis said.