College Admissions Counselors Saw Record Applicant Pools During The Pandemic : NPR

Lisa Przekop, director of admissions at the University of California at Santa Barbara, says many high schoolers have written their application essays this year about depression and anxiety during the pandemic. Patricia Marroquin / Moment Editorial / Getty Images Hide caption

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Patricia Marroquin / Moment Editorial / Getty Images

Lisa Przekop, director of admissions at the University of California at Santa Barbara, says many high schoolers have written their application essays this year about depression and anxiety during the pandemic.

Patricia Marroquin / Moment Editorial / Getty Images

College-bound high schoolers make their final considerations before May 1, the national school selection deadline. This day marks the end of a hectic approval season drastically marked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many colleges have dropped standardized testing requirements, and with some high schools awarding pass / fail grades and canceling extracurricular activities and sports, admissions counselors have had to change the way they read and evaluate applications.

“”[It was] Definitely the craziest of my 36 years, without a doubt, “said Lisa Przekop, director of admissions at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

High School Seniors Ask:

The UC school system received the most uses in the United States.

Like many others, Przekop says that all of their employees worked remotely during the pandemic. But when working from home wasn’t challenging enough, Przekop said the school saw it an increase in applications of 16%.

“Additionally, we had to find a way to run our admissions selection process without using SAT or ACT results,” she says. “So any of those things would have been a big change, but having them all at once was beyond anything I could really have imagined.”

Przekop spoke to All Things Considered about how what consultants have been looking for in applications this year has changed, what topics they have seen in admission essays, and how the process may actually have improved despite the pandemic.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Highlights of the interview

Did all of this lead to more time for each individual application?

Quick answer, yes. Things are much more nuanced now. And even though a student had certain activities planned, for example, many of those activities were canceled. The other big difference was that the students were obviously much more depressed this year. Everyone is more anxious, including the students. You are applying to college that is stressful in and of itself. So we found that many students used their essays to talk about depression, anxiety, and the like. Reading essay after essay about depression, anxiety, stress – is exhausting. So we really had to encourage staff to take more breaks during the review. So it definitely slowed the whole process down when we had more applications to consider.

Can you provide some insight into what you are basing your decisions on this year?

Absolutely. Maybe I would have focused on this GPA right away in the past. Now, looking at this academic picture, do I have to look at the fact that the student challenged himself as much as he could? Were the courses even available? Do I see trends in your academic performance? If your spring semester last year, your junior year, all passed / failed, can I assume that you did well on these courses? And here you really had to rely on what the students were sharing in their essays to try to piece that together.

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Do you notice greater diversity in the students applying to UC?

In terms of ethnic diversity, we see that. In terms of diversity of experiences – for example, first generation students and students from many different socio-economic backgrounds – we definitely see it. I see students who are more committed to the environment than before. I see students who are more politically conscious and active than I’ve seen before. So I’m definitely seeing a pattern of behavior that looks a bit different from what the students did in the past.

Anna Sirianni, Justine Kenin and Amy Isackson produced and edited this audio story. Mano Sundaresan adapted it for the web.

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