Class of 2021 Reflects on Trials and Tribulations of Unusual College Admissions Cycle

The waiting area in GDS’ college counseling office at the high school. Photos by Kaiden J. Yu.

Throughout the 2020-21 school year, the senior class has been forced to grapple with obstacles unique to the COVID-19 pandemic during their college admissions process. As the grade wraps up their time at 4200 Davenport Street, those interviewed by the Bit reflected on the struggles of the college application experience, sharing how they managed to get into schools even with lower acceptance rates due to more applicants and unprecedented standardized testing policies. 

“I feel like the entire college process is just like a big-ass raffle,” senior Cole Leonard said. “It’s a case-by-case thing.” 

Record low acceptance rates made seniors more nervous than ever to face their acceptance decisions. In the past year, many colleges elected not to require students to submit their standardized test scores with their applications. Testing options caused a large increase in number of applicants, making admissions rates plummet. Multiple students interviewed expressed their frustrations about not getting into schools they expected to be able to get into.

“I got rejected from University of Maryland, which was a surprise for many reasons,” senior Emmett Freeman said. “My ties to the school were pretty extensive, plus I was in state. This was a huge shock to me.”

Senior Isa Cymrot also received some unexpected decisions from schools that she believed she could count on. “I got deferred from some schools I thought I would get into, especially because I had legacy at one of them, so that definitely put stress on me,” she said. 

The 2020-21 admissions year saw a noticeable drop in admissions rates at colleges across the country due to the increase in applicants as a result of optional testing. Cymrot said the shift lessened the significance of having connections and being a legacy for certain schools. Despite these drastically low rates, college counselors still saw many, if not most, of their students get promising results.

“We haven’t seen a lot of shifts in direct relation to COVID,” Co-Director of College Counseling Jenni Ruiz said this past week.  “I think there’s a large narrative out there that this year was so, so tough, but honestly, we’re running the numbers [on acceptance rates] right now, and it’s not bearing out in what we see. A lot of our kids have a choice and are into college.”

Flexibility of application requirements also led to confusion about which materials to include when applying, leaving some students frustrated with guidance given by counselors.

The three offices of GDS’ college counselors.

“For me personally, my college counselor told me not to send my test scores, and I got rejected from my [Early Decision] school,” Leonard said. “Then, I sent my tests scores and pretty much got into every one of my regular schools.” 

Following this article’s publication online, Leonard contacted the Bit to clarify that his parents and GDS’ college counselors decided to include his test score in his Early Decision application, a reversal from his counselor’s initial recommendation. He had misremembered during the interview months after the decision was made.

“It’s really difficult for the college counselors to pick who should send their test scores and who shouldn’t send their test scores,” Leonard said. “I could definitely see kids getting mad at their college counselors for stuff like that.”

Ruiz said that there were many GDS seniors who didn’t send test scores to schools and were still accepted. “We had kids who didn’t submit testing and got into great places. There’s always a rumor mill when it comes to college admissions,” she said.

A group of interviewed students experienced that this past year, counselors couldn’t fully meet students’ needs.

“The lack of time in college counselors’ schedules definitely was an issue that I heard from friends and also experienced myself,” senior Maya Fawaz told the Bit. “College counselors were not really giving a lot of comments or seeming to take [students’] time into consideration when looking at their essays and editing their essays.” 

Senior Ayana Curto echoed Fawaz’s sentiment regarding counselors’ availability. “Reaching them has definitely been a lot more difficult,” she said. “That lack of communication definitely has an impact on the student who’s applying.” 

Ruiz disagreed. “I felt like I was able to meet with absolutely every kid to usher them over the line,” she said. “We weren’t able to deliver as much information to the class, and we had to rely a lot more on email, which I think was difficult for everyone to navigate.”

Not all of the seniors took issue with the college counselors and their process. “[My counselor] was always really easy to meet with,” said senior Hannah Mikhail. “She was always willing to meet with me and look at my application and my essays and things like that. Overall, I think they did a really good job.”

Despite the difficulties that this year presented, Freeman was pleased with his end result. “Purdue is a great school,” he concluded. “I’m happy that I’m going there.” 

The Bit learned that Curto plans to attend Carnegie Mellon University, Cymrot plans to attend Washington University in St. Louis, Fawaz plans to attend University of California, Los Angeles, Leonard plans to attend Cornell University and Mikhail plans to attend Georgetown University.

(This article has been updated since its initial publication.)

CORRECTION (May 3 at 5:44 p.m.): A previous version of this article mistakenly referred to Julian Cunningham in connection to quotes from and information about Emmett Freeman.