The Covid crisis has baffled high school students by the uncertainty of their future

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Seniors from last year, like Ava Leahey who graduated from Essex High School in June, the pandemic has defined the end of their senior year. For this year’s seniors, the pandemic shapes their entire experience. Photo by Glenn Russell / VTDigger

Excitement and anxiety accompany the college application season, but this year the process is more stressful than usual.

Student lives have been turned upside down by Covid shutdowns, disease and the economic crisis, and early signs are that fewer high school students are applying for college this year due to uncertainty over the pandemic.

Much of the support for the complex college application process has been virtual, adding to a sense of disconnection.

The Vermont Student Assistance Corp., the public nonprofit that provides loans and counseling to Vermonters, hosts a college fair each year that typically attracts hundreds of high school students. This year it was online.

Consulting sessions with advisors have taken place on Zoom. With the suspension of sports activities, high school athletes cannot ask recruiters to come and watch them play and have to rely on old images. Campus tours are canceled.

“I’m the type of person who gets stressed easily anyway, but the fact that I couldn’t get in – like being physically where I want to go – was a little scary at first,” said Julia Before. , senior at the Lyndon Institute.

Deondra Goodspeed, an elder at Hartford High, is attending distance school this year. She is applying to nursing programs all over New England, but says the lack of access to in-person counseling has made the process much more difficult.

“You are easily distracted by Zoom, or like, things can be communicated poorly,” Goodspeed said.

It is still early in the college application season. The usual deadline for most college applications is January 1. Then the waiting game begins, until the colleges send out letters of acceptance or rejection.

But early national indicators suggest that many high school students are reluctant to embark on higher education, at least for now.

The joint app reported that nationwide applications are down from last year, Inside Higher Education reported in November. The trend is particularly acute for first generation students and low income students.

“It has been a challenge to motivate students to apply this year,” said Tara Cariano, high school counselor and president of the Vermont School Counselor Association. This could be due to distance education, she said, or just general uncertainty and anxiety about the future.

Bryce Ilsley, a student at Oxbow High School in Bradford, hopes to study business and play basketball at a college somewhere in Vermont next year. But he said he felt he and his friends were generally less focused – or excited – about applying to college like they might have been in a year without the pandemic.

“It’s like the fun isn’t there. Maybe towards the end of the year, when things are a little more normal. But at the moment, I have the impression that the university is not our main concern, ”he said.

Most colleges in the United States have moved to elective testing this year because the pandemic has canceled in-person administration of so many ACT and SAT exams. In Vermont, this includes some of the most selective schools in the state, the University of Vermont and Middlebury College.

Critics have long argued that the tests are discriminatory and disadvantage those who are already less likely to go to college, including low-income and non-white students. And VSAC counselors, who work largely with first-generation students, say the policy change is indeed expanding the horizons of many adolescents they work with, especially those who have good grades but don’t test well.

In some cases, students are skeptical that schools won’t really penalize them if they don’t submit standardized test results, said Lindsay Carpenter, an outreach advisor for VSAC who works with students in the Kingdom of the United Kingdom. Northeast.

The Vermont Student Assistance Corp. provides counseling and loans to Vermonters going to college. Photo by Glenn Russell / VTDigger

“Some students also think it’s too good to be true. And then they say to me: ‘Are you sure I have nothing to send?’ “, did she say.

This year’s common app includes an optional 250-word section on the impact of the virus. Carpenter said she told students who were worried about not submitting grades to tell schools they signed up for test dates which were later canceled.

Schools taking elective tests have been a real “silver lining,” said Anne Kaplan, a VSAC counselor who works with students in Upper Valley and central Vermont. But university admissions departments are also reporting that fewer first-generation, low-income students seem to apply to top-tier schools, so she pushes the students she advises to take advantage of a less crowded area.

“I really encourage my students to go ahead and put these extended schools out there,” Kaplan said. “The worst that can happen is that they don’t get in, but these schools are the ones that can really provide the full financial aid to meet all the financial needs of the students.”

In general, Carpenter says the impact of the pandemic on the decisions of the students she advises is difficult to analyze. On the one hand, she has noticed that many high performing students say they are considering postponing a year. Meanwhile, many students who had never paid much attention to college “suddenly made a 180.”

“They’re like: I have to go. How can you help me get there? ” she said.

Perhaps being quarantined with their families for so long has made them more eager to leave home, Carpenter said. But she also believes that the economic crisis caused by the pandemic has made students more aware of their precariousness and instilled a sense of urgency to embark on a path to better and more secure employment.

“It made them realize that life is happening and it’s good to have options and a plan,” she said.

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