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The exquisite angst of applying to college in a deeply anxious year

Institutions that typically take test results into account will need to find other ways to assess untested applications like Strachan’s. At Yale, admissions officers will take a closer look at things like teacher recommendations, high school transcripts and student writing, including the personal essay, said Mr. Quinlan, the dean of admissions.

This aspect also posed problems for Mr. Strachan: what to write about and how to stand out? With his canceled soccer and lacrosse seasons, as well as other extracurricular activities, he filled the time by creating a group called A Helping Elbow with friends and classmates, to deliver groceries to the elderly. or those with weakened immune systems.

As the organization grew, students began to sew hundreds of face masks. The experience became a dominant part of her college application.

Just as students struggled with this weird admissions season, so have colleges. The databases they buy from testing companies contain fewer names, test results and demographic information this year, adding to the recruiting challenge. Virtual college tours and other forms of online outreach make it more difficult to build personal connections.

“It’s all on Zoom, which is difficult,” said Peter Hagan, admissions manager at Syracuse University.

But others said the virtual outreach eliminated the logistical difficulties in reaching potential candidates.

“We have met an incredible number of students,” said Mr. Quinlan, the dean of admissions at Yale. “The barriers to briefings – not going to Topeka, Kan., Or going to New Haven – are gone.”

For Ms Caldwell, who attends a Catholic girls’ school in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills, the past few months have been tough. Her father, an auto worker, had Covid-19 very early on but has since recovered. Neither of his parents finished college.

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