Holderness Students Accepted to Nearly 150 Colleges and Universities
Applying to college has always required students to face the unknown – and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. For this year’s crop of Holderness seniors, applying to college has been an unprecedented exercise in adapting to a changed world. From virtual college tours to Zoom interviews with admission officers, today’s seniors had to overcome many challenges to find the right college fit. With college decisions now arriving in student mailboxes (and inboxes), we wanted to talk with Holderness School’s Interim Director of College Counseling Erika Blauth about the many challenges - and opportunities - that our college-bound seniors faced over the last year.
When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in March of 2020, we knew it would complicate the college search. Did that expectation match the reality? Both yes and no. Yes, coming into this application cycle there were many unknowns that college-bound students, parents, college counselors, and admission staff inevitably met head on in the moment. One example is how as COVID kept dragging on and SAT/ACT tests continued to get cancelled last summer, admission offices had to react to make standardized testing optional, since so many students were unable to take the test like they had planned for. The result of this widespread test-optional wave was an unpredictable increase in application numbers at highly selective institutions. We are still getting a sense for those skyrocketing numbers now. But on the flip side, most of the other wheels of the college process turned relatively “normally,” all things considered, and we are pleased that our seniors have been hearing great results so far due to their hard work and flexibility in the face of all the uncertainties.
Because of COVID, many in-person aspects of the admissions process were taken off the table. For example, the college admission officers who usually visit Holderness to meet with students did Zoom calls instead. How did that work out? They went really well, actually! We hosted 110 admission officers virtually in the fall, mostly in September and October. The feedback that we heard from seniors was positive; those meetings proved to still allow seniors to both learn important nuances about a college/university and to make a personal connection with the “visiting” admission officer. Those admission officers are the representatives who also read Holderness students’ applications, so making that connection over Zoom was still very beneficial. What’s more, if only one student attended a Zoom college visit, that essentially became an interview. While we hope that we can offer in-person college visits again in this fall, I imagine we’ll also have some admission officers who will be visiting with our students virtually if, for one reason or another, they’re not able to travel to rural New Hampshire.
While some students can now visit colleges in person, that wasn’t the case earlier in the year. Did the lack of in-person visits make it harder for students to find the right school? Yes, not being able to visit in-person definitely made the search process more challenging, but I’ve been really proud of how our students took advantage of virtual opportunities to learn what they needed to learn about the colleges on their list. So, while some students understandably adopted an “I’ll see where I get in and then hopefully visit and make a final decision” approach, other students felt confident enough in their virtual research and assessment of “fit” to know which schools they were truly most excited about. In a way, students had to really use their head — rather than their heart, which can often speak the loudest during an in-person visit — and do thorough research to narrow down their college list and make some big decisions. This worked well for some students and was harder for others. I’m glad that seniors were finally able to tour colleges over spring break this year, and juniors can now use the plentiful virtual visit resources to do early research on their college lists to make informed decisions about where they’d like to visit in-person this summer.
A lot of schools have stopped requiring students to submit standardized test scores, simply because of a lack of testing locations this year. How has that affected students? Test optional admission is not new or novel — some colleges have been test-optional for 25+ years — but COVID certainly accelerated this movement. While roughly 600 colleges were test optional prior to COVID, about 1,000 more colleges went test optional because of COVID. Many of these have also announced that they’re remaining test optional for either 1 additional year or indefinitely. Here at Holderness, we had to quickly pivot in the fall from offering public-facing SAT administrations on campus, which proved to pose too many risks to our school “bubble”, to offering an in-school SAT for Holderness students on the one day it was available. We were glad we could still offer seniors the ability to take the SAT if they wanted to do so, and also say to students who didn’t feel as if testing was their strong suit that they could make the decision to allocate their energy to non-testing areas of their college search. For students who had a test score, the test optional policies allowed them to decide which schools on their list they wanted to send scores and which scores they didn’t. And for students who didn’t want to send their scores, that allowed the strength of their transcript (rigor of courses plus grades earned) to be the central focus of the academic review of their application. Of course, this could be a blessing or a curse depending on a student’s school performance, but at least they could make whatever decision they felt helped put their best foot forward. I am very glad the Class of 2022 will also be able to decide if and how they want testing to be a part of their application; it takes a lot of pressure off, I think.
How has COVID changed things for student-athletes who want to compete in college? Another COVID challenge from this year has certainly been the impact of canceled college athletics seasons on our prospective college athletes. When a college or league cancels a season, we're hearing that many of those players are deciding to either reclassify or take advantage of the NCAA's one-year extension of eligibility. For example, many college seniors who had been on track to graduate are deciding to stay on for another year, so their "spot" on the team isn't becoming available for an incoming first-year student, all while the number of high school athletes vying for those spots hasn't changed. This is seeming to form a bottleneck of high school athletes on this hopeful trajectory to play college athletics, and it's seemed more touch-and-go for college coaches as they wait to hear back about who on their teams are returning or not so they can finalize their rosters, which trickles down to us and impacts our anticipated timelines. For our current seniors at Holderness, in collaboration with their coach here and college counselor, they've needed to be extra diligent about communicating with college coaches, perhaps cast their net of applications a bit wider, and — in some cases — make tough decisions about attending a college they're admitted to even if the coach isn't sure they'll have space on the team for them this next year. A lot remains to be seen about how this will play out for juniors who hope to play college athletics, but many I've spoken with have been having encouraging conversations with college coaches at schools of interest, so that makes me hopeful.
College acceptances are already rolling in for seniors, but that doesn’t mean you’re letting up. You’ve already started juniors on their college search? Yes! Pam Mulcahy [Associate Director of College Counseling and mathematics teacher] and I have met with our junior class counselees in both large group (Zoom) and one-on-one settings. All members of the junior class are along a spectrum of what they’re thinking about so far regarding what they want in their future college community, but that’s normal and expected for this point in time. For instance, some have already taken a number of virtual tours and/or visited campuses in-person already (with older siblings in past years), and others are prospective student athletes who already have a focused list of schools. Some other students are just beginning to think about what type of community they want to be in post-Holderness. There’s no right or wrong place to be at right now, especially in this COVID year, and we’re focusing on supporting each student as they take steps forward in their process from whatever point they’re starting from.
Just as Holderness School nears completion on its new 35,000 square-foot math and science building this spring, the school is set to embark on a series of transformative upgrades to its Nordic trails and athletic fields.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck last spring, educators knew the following school year would pose unprecedented challenges for students and faculty. That concern prompted Holderness to forego regular Saturday morning classes - at least for the 2020-21 school year – in favor of programming that supported students’ social and emotional wellbeing.
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