How to Counsel High School Students on Pandemic Application Gaps

If you counsel high school students through the 2022 college application process, you’re already coping with pandemic challenge year number three. Fortunately, there is some positive news. As of January 2022 data, college applications have risen above pre-pandemic numbers. That’s an optimistic sign that things are moving somewhat toward normalcy. 

As you counsel high school students about completing their college applications, you’ve probably found that they’re frustrated by Pandemic application gaps. On-again, off-again classes, remote learning, canceled activities, and student anxiety have left students without traditional application data. As this trend will likely continue, your students need to understand that the changes might simplify their application process. 

Many Schools Are Now Test-Optional 

Over the past two years, high school students nationwide scheduled the SAT one or more times, only to have it repeatedly canceled. Fortunately, many schools temporarily eliminated academic testing as an obstacle. However, test scores are just one of the factors colleges and universities consider in assessing new applicants. In acknowledging this, many schools have adopted test-optional admission policies. 

A Harvard University admissions officer explained that they encourage students to send “…whatever materials they believe would convey their accomplishments…” The website has a list of 1,820 accredited 4-year colleges and universities that have temporarily waived test requirements for Fall 2022 admissions. However, schools will still accept scores from students who completed the SAT.

Counsel High School Students

Remote Learning Grades Provide Only a Partial Record of Academic Achievements

As students and school districts transitioned to remote learning, grades became another pandemic casualty. Some schools stopped issuing letter grades. Instead, they gave students “pass,” “fail,” “credit,” or grade variations that included letters, numbers, and other designations. 

Colleges are committed to reviewing student academic records with grade variations in mind. Additionally, transcripts usually include several years of pre-pandemic records to consider. 

You Can Substitute Home-Based Activities for Extracurriculars

As with grades and test scores, extracurricular activities are a single element in a student’s application. But, they’re still important because they give schools a bigger picture of a student’s personality. 

Many students missed out on traditional organized sports, clubs, and other extracurricular activities. They can still enhance their applications with new and pre-pandemic activities. 

  • Family events, activities, writing, and other new experiences
  • Organized online activities: music lessons, cooking classes, Zoom-based groups, cubs, and events
  • Prior year’s extracurricular activities. 
  • Involvement in organized activities that the pandemic disrupted. 

You Can Write an Essay That Tells Your Story

The pandemic gave every student an interesting story to tell. If they feel compelled to share it in their application, they should. However, they should also provide a broader perspective that shows who they are.

To assist students with their often-challenging college essays, Common App has a guide called “Telling your story.” It provides simple prompts and topics students can use to create a meaningful essay. The prompts encourage students to consider issues and life events they might not have considered. 

Change Can Be Good 

The pandemic has changed many aspects of the college application process. However, some modifications are positive and might never have occurred otherwise. 

Testing is a good example. has advocated for changes in college admission testing for nearly two decades. They believe that applicants are “more than a score.” Currently, test-optional and other shifts are temporary for most colleges and universities. But, they are at least giving higher education institutions a reason to try something different.