When James Olson was planning college visits back in January, the Streetsboro junior decided he wanted more than the cookie-cutter campus tour. So, he scheduled meetings with department heads, consults with admissions counselors and specialized program tours with potential classmates.

“You go there to see if you fit into the college and that was my goal. To see if I fit in, and see if the academic program was something I’d be interested in and if they would be a good fit moving forward. But before if we could decide if it was safe to go, I received email confirmation from both colleges informing me that the tours had been canceled,” he said.

Like many college-bound high school juniors and seniors, James’ application process is now in limbo due to the current pandemic. With closed campuses, postponed admissions exams and canceled college fairs, higher education institutions nationwide are altering their recruitment tactics and admissions policies to accommodate these changes. 

“There’s a lot of unknowns for the juniors. We don’t know what things are going to look like, but the information is coming,” Aurora High School counselor Christina Miley said.

Campus connections

Like James’ two choices, most colleges and universities at this point have canceled all campus visits, open houses, college fairs and informational sessions, and are now trying to recreate those in-person experiences through digital platforms.

“A big part of campus tours is the interaction with current students and other prospectives. We still want prospective students to think ‘Can I see myself being in a class with this person?’ Any way we can help a student get that experience is what we’re trying to do,” Hiram Director of Admission Sherman Dean II said.

To reach that goal, Hiram is helping prospective students schedule online meetings with admissions counselors, faculty members in their interest area and sometimes coaches. Student tour guides are now training to offer live walk-throughs of the campus. Hiram’s new setup is similar to how it worked with out-of-state students previously.

Similarly, Kent State has been connecting with prospective students through an already established virtual tour, daily Instagram Live sessions with admissions counselors and Facebook Live events with individual colleges. Sean Broghammer, Kent State’s associate vice president for enrollment, said that they are still developing ways for prospective students to connect with current students. 

“We did have a campus tour live session a week and a half ago led by current students, and that video is available on the Keep Up with Kent State page. We’re working on more of a Q and A approach, so prospectives can hear from actual students instead of just administrators,” he said. 

Streetsboro High School counselor Kelly Simmons said that she has seen many colleges and universities using social media to reach high school students.

“If there were a bright side, I think this might be giving our students some exposure to colleges they wouldn’t have thought about before because they have this new access,” she said.

Holistic admissions

With the April 4 ACT test being rescheduled for June 13 and May 2 SAT being canceled, colleges and universities are also considering waiving test scores. Current high school juniors in Ohio already took the SAT or ACT in February as required by state law, but many were hoping to retake it to improve scores.

Hiram is already test optional — meaning students are not required to take the SAT or ACT to be considered for acceptance — but requires certain test scores if a student’s GPA is below 2.8. They are now waiving standardized test scores for the incoming class of college freshmen (current high school seniors), as is Kent State University and the University of Akron.

Crestwood High School counselor Karen Graves follows college admissions blogs and said she has seen an increasing number of schools waiving test scores for current juniors, including Kent State, Case Western Reserve University, Boston University, University of Oregon and Oregon State University. The University of Akron has said that it is considering going test optional for fall 2021 admissions.

“Discussions about holistic admissions has been around for some time. Kent State had begun to evaluate it in recent history, but prior to COVID-19. I think this helped us along and it gave us more reason and rationale to make that decision,” Broghammer said. 

For fall 2020 applicants, Kent State is waiving the standardized testing requirement, using a “more holistic approach to determine student admission,” accepting unofficial transcripts from high school counselors, waiving the application fees, and moving the deadline to apply for Fall 2020 admissions and merit scholarships to May 1. They also moved the deadline to confirm enrollment to June 1. 

Administration and faculty agree the changes are in the best interest of students, according to a recent press release. Kent State will continue to evaluate applicants using a holistic approach for fall 2021 as well, and more specifics will be released at a later date.

Although Ohio has a Department of Higher Education, decisions pertaining to admissions have generally fallen under the purview of the individual colleges and universities, said Jeff Robinson, the department’s director of communication. 

“That said, because we are dealing with an unprecedented situation, I can't predict what may happen in the weeks ahead or whether it would have an effect on those decisions,” he said. 

Senior transition

While high school seniors have generally received their acceptance letters, they too are facing some changes and uncertainty when it comes to the transition into higher education.

One of the earliest changes they’ll see will be the new format of Advanced Placement tests, the scores of which determine how much college credit they can receive. Seniors are not the only students who can take AP courses; however, as seniors, this is their last chance to receive college credit without paying tuition.

On March 20, the College Board, which administers AP exams and the SATs, announced that instead of the 3.5 hour in-person tests, students would take a 45-minute online free-response exam that only includes topics covered by early March.

“Colleges support this solution and are committed to ensuring that AP students receive the credit they have worked this year to earn. For decades, colleges have accepted a shortened AP Exam for college credit when groups of students have experienced emergencies,” College Board’s website states.

College Board is offering two testing dates for each AP subject, noting that some students may want to take the earlier exam while the content is fresh, while others may want more time to study given the changes.

“AP’s been working on this solution for several months now because they’re global. Once China started dealing with this, they knew something would have to change,” said Simmons, who also serves as Streetsboro’s AP coordinator.

High school seniors may also be experiencing online orientations. Kent State University has already developed an entirely online format for its orientations, which run June 1 to July 1.

Despite all the changes, James, for one, feels hopeful that the current situation will not affect his college experience in the long run.

“Really it feels like someone just pressed pause button on life right now. I definitely have the belief that once we all get through this that I’ll be able to go out in summer and see the colleges. Just enough time to make decisions for my senior year,” he said.

Reporter Krista S. Kano can be reached at 330-541-9416, kkano@recordpub.com or on Twitter @KristaKanoRCedu.

Hiram College admissions

Kent State admissions

ACT website

SAT website

Ohio Department of Education

Advanced Placement