One year later: SAT and college preparation amid COVID


Riley Coesens, Editor in Chief

Since last March, the lives of many have been uprooted by COVID-19’s seemingly endless gloom. Between canceled events and traditions, virtual learning, altered athletics, and college craziness, young adults have been overwhelmed by the constant stream of changes coming their way.

One crucial part of many teens’ lives is their decisions to attend colleges; the entire testing and review process of applicants was emphasized as a focal point of their lives for years, only for the system to be remodeled over the course of mere months. This situation has brought positive ideas to the forefront of the issue’s debate nationwide–some schools have chosen to remain test-optional and offer a plethora of virtual resources, widening the scope of educational opportunities.

Nonetheless, the main question that students continue to grapple with is this: “how can I be prepared?”

A major concern of high school juniors is the SAT: this April, Milford High School is reinstating its requirement for all juniors to take the SAT, as well as the ACT WorkKeys and the Michigan Social Studies and Science state tests.

Though many MHS students are grateful to get to test in person and through the school, compared to previous test-takers’ struggle to enroll in a minimal number of open test center slots across the state, they are also apprehensive about their preparedness for the exams and college planning beyond. “When we were first shut down, college applications and testing didn’t seem as scary since the SAT wasn’t as heavily weighted and there was more flexibility, but now that the SAT and application season is coming so close, it all feels real,” explained Junior Elise Elliot. “It’s very stressful to balance that with my schoolwork and extracurriculars. I feel like I never have enough time each night to study for the SAT or do some college research.”

For upcoming underclassmen such as Sophomore Alexis Cornett, the pressure has not yet intensified as greatly: “I think as a sophomore the looming weight of college decisions might not be as daunting until next year, but many of us have already had exposure through AP tests and the PSAT in prior years,” she shared.

Nevertheless, stress is not all that these students have experienced on behalf of their future academic inquiries. Over time, many believe that alterations in exams, content availability, access to informational materials, and virtual resources will potentially have long-term benefits; one such example that will be enacted in June is the elimination of the SAT essay. “I believe COVID has forced many colleges and students to reconcile the viability of standardized testing,” said Cornett. “This move is likely to initiate conversations among admissions offices about standardized testing policies for future classes and has already sparked change with the College Board’s cancellations of the SAT subject tests and the SAT with essay this June. My class will be among the first to take the SAT next year sans the essay.”

Another example would be the College Board’s modified 2020 exams and the organization’s expectations for 2021 exams based on feedback from previous virtual exams. This spring, tests will be the traditional length and most may be completed in person or virtually. Live review sessions will continue to be available and additional study documents can be accessed through the Board’s website.

Regardless of the impact of adjusted test-taking, students considering pursuing college education are conflicted about limited face-to-face opportunities to explore campus and social options. “I would say that college preparation is harder than it has been in the past,” explained Junior Gracie Smetana. “Most schools are only offering virtual visits, which is great to see the campus, but it makes it very hard to get a feel for the college itself and decide if it is somewhere you could see yourself for the next four years.”

Depending on the state and proximity of a campus to a COVID hotspot, some universities have reopened their doors for tours, many restricted to outdoor viewing only.

Others have continued to rely heavily on virtual tour videos, Zoom sessions, and current student interactions and email communications to convey information previously retained through a campus visit. For the most part, however, it is up to the individual student to do his/her research and hope to find guidance through a screen.

“They give information regarding cost, some facts, and demographics, but there are never students talking about student life or experience. The people running these fairs also can never keep up with questions so that can be very confusing to understand,” said Elliot. “I prefer an in-person tour, but under the circumstances, these virtual fairs are better than nothing. I also find myself getting very bored because if these fairs are webinar-style, I find myself zoning out.”

Virtual resources can be a great starting point for students to get a feel for their academic, social, and cultural preferences. “I have found the addition of virtual resources for browsing college-related information extremely helpful personally, and I think they will be significantly advantageous to students post-COVID as well,” stated Cornett. “No longer do you have to travel several miles to visit a college campus when you can virtually explore colleges from across the country within the comfort of your home.” Though walking a campus and seeing it firsthand is the most realistic way to interpret one’s feelings toward a school, websites, meetings, and social media can be effective in grasping one’s interest.

COVID-19 has created limitations and expanded boundaries alike in the academic world, and will continue to influence the way in which educators teach students to the best of their abilities. Flexibility has been a vital asset to all during these times.

Above all else, students must focus on their goals and the positivity that will come from adaptability to be successful.“I always joke that if I had known last March that not only was I going to spend the rest of the year online, but also spend a whole term of my sophomore year online I would have completely freaked out,” Cornett shared. “But I look back on that now, and I realize that I can thrive in different environments and make it through difficult situations; success isn’t limited by imperfections in yourself or life.”