How high school seniors are applying to schools during a pandemic


Between campus visits, supplemental essays and interviews, applying to a college is not an easy decision. With the COVID-19 pandemic still at the forefront of people’s minds, the high school class of 2021 is facing a college application process that looks very different from anything colleges have seen in years past. 

Julia Rowe and Taliah Lansing are both high school seniors from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While they have very different lists of possible schools, Butler is one they have in common. 

Butler is offering in-person and virtual tours this fall. The in-person tours are being offered at a reduced capacity and all participants must participate in a health screening the morning of their tour. 

Rowe was able to attend one of the in-person visits. She said it was just her family and the tour guide, which was helpful because they could personalize the tour based on her interests. 

Lauryn Lintner, a sophomore international business and marketing double major, is a tour guide for Butler. In addition to their smaller size, Litner’s groups are not able to go inside all of the buildings on campus. For example, Litner can tell her group about the HRC and the dorm rooms, but she cannot bring them inside. However, she said the families she has talked to are grateful for the opportunity to see even just a part of the campus in person. 

“I’m really happy that Butler is able to provide that and we’re able to kind of support those seniors in high school,” Lintner said. “Even if Butler isn’t the place for them, I think Butler’s a good look at what a small private school might be like, so if you can kind of get a sense of what type of school you want, that might be good for your decision.” 

Butler is also offering synchronous, virtual tours to prospective students and their families. This involves hearing a presentation from an admissions counselor and then a question and answer session with Butler students. 

Lansing has not been to visit Butler’s campus, but she took advantage of the virtual tour option. She said while she learned a lot about the university, it is hard to get an idea of whether a school is the right fit when you are not on the campus. 

“You can get a ton of information, but it’s all the same information you could get from a website,” Lansing said. “It’s usually explained better and a little more personal, but you can’t get that really personal feeling. Every interview you do, a student says ‘I picked this school because of my visit. It just felt like home.’ I can’t say that, because I was in my bedroom staring at a computer screen.” 

In addition to virtual visits, admission representatives are now hosting high school visits online rather than traveling to high schools across the country. Rowe attended one of the Butler information sessions through her high school and used that time to ask her admissions counselor some questions she had about the school. 

Jerome Dueweke, the interim director of admissions, said his office has tried to offer a lot of the same opportunities to prospective students that they have offered in the past. However, for schools across the country, the attendance at those events has been lower than in years past. 

“We are in a position where we have a lot of those opportunities, but they are virtual and the attendance is not good across the board,” Dueweke said. “Again, not just at Butler, but really all universities. Because prospective high school juniors and high school seniors are spending all day on Zoom, or at least a good chunk of it. They’re craving the same things that we are, that, you know, actually sitting in front of a person, and the last thing that they want to do is spend another half hour with me via Zoom in a recruitment event, so it’s been tough.” 

Lansing was able to visit two schools in person last spring and one local school in person this fall. She said she was originally going to apply to six schools. However, now that she has not been able to visit most of the schools in person, her plans have changed. 

“I am applying to 10,” Lansing said. “I have my settles, I have my accurates and I have my reaches, but it’s hard because, like I said, I can’t go there in person, so I don’t know where I’m going to feel most comfortable.” 

Lansing said she hopes to be able to visit the schools she applies to before May. She said if she casts a wider net, she hopes she will visit and like at least a couple of the schools where she was offered admission. 

Both Rowe and Lansing tried to find the silver lining that comes with applying to schools during a particularly challenging time. 

Rowe said that because of the pandemic, some of her extracurricular activities were cancelled or are running at reduced capacity, so she has had more time to work on her applications than she would have had pre-pandemic.

“I had a lot more free time to sit down and work on applications,” Rowe said. “I actually got in all of my applications before Oct. 1. I had a lot more free time because, as sad as it is, a lot of things were cancelled. So I had a lot more time to sit down and work on some more things going into it and take more time to write my essays.” 

Dueweke said that since this is a particularly challenging time for students, admission departments across the country are learning to be flexible with the incoming applicant class. 

“The amount of uncertainty for the 2021 high school graduating class is so through the roof, and we and everyone else are just having to learn to be incredibly, incredibly flexible with everything that goes on,” Dueweke said. “The word I’ve heard a lot over the past few months is grace and we’re offering a lot of grace to students, and we’re hoping that they’re doing the same to us as they go through the process.”


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