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High school seniors face college application process changed by the pandemic

Applications are open for many schools and universities, but the process looks a lot different due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

SEATTLE — From remote learning to getting back to socially distanced classrooms, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted students in a lot of ways. That includes how high school seniors are dealing with a new college application process.

Volunteer opportunities and extracurricular activities were put on hold last year, which was a big change for Seattle area seniors like Ethan Audia, who spent years focusing on swimming and water polo, hoping those achievements would pay off when applying to college.

And while those awards still count, Audia said his focus now is on his personal essay explaining how the pandemic made him a better person.

"All the schools know that every student had to deal with [the pandemic]... writing about how each student handled the situation and what makes them different on the way they took this experience and what they learned from it," said Audia.

Gabrielle Fox founded The College App Coach last year with the goal of helping students overcome barriers put up because of the pandemic. She said the pandemic essay question is likely going to be the norm this year.

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"If your grades aren't where you want them to be, if you didn't get to participate in extracurriculars, or take that ACT test, [the essay] gives you that opportunity to explain this may have affected my grades, but it does not affect my potential as a student," said Fox.

The SAT and ACTs are optional this year, which is another big change given they were so heavily weighted pre-pandemic. Also, Fox said grades would be evaluated differently, with some schools having transitioned to a pass/fail system.

"There is a lot of fear in students and pressure from parents with what was required from students prior to the pandemic, and they sometimes worry they aren't measuring up," said Fox.

But Fox also said colleges recognize there have been shifts in what students were able to do during the pandemic. She suggested students focus on letters of recommendation and that personal essay instead of a resume that may not be as full.

"As long as they are expressing what their passionate about, and what they want for their future, they will be OK," said Fox.

But as Audia pointed out, every student went through the pandemic, so how does each senior stand out?

"I'm going to write about how I still was able to incorporate sports into my life and how it improved my time management, and I think it made me a better person," said Audia.

Fox advised high school seniors to write as genuinely as possible and remember a human being on the other side reading the essay.

"Schools know their stats and their programs, but humans connect with humans, so help them connect with where you came from," said Fox.