COVID and Colleges


A Portrait of Mr. Worthman(Lakeside)

As COVID-19 has halted the world this spring, schools have gone remote and virtually all academic programs have been suspended. In particular, the college process may see its greatest obstacle yet, as uncertainty and instability have shrouded applications and the functioning of schools. For students and schools alike, remote learning may revolutionize the way we learn at school, apply for college, and plan our school years. Tatler interviewed Director of College Counseling Ari Worthman on COVID and colleges.


In terms of graduation and matriculation, Mr. Worthman saw rather expected results: “The trends were pretty consistent–University of Washington was the number one school… the schools that were right behind it were pretty consistent, and they range from places like USC, Columbia, Santa Clara, Brown.” 


In the process, however, Mr. Worthman does note quite a few changes. Because next year is so uncertain, he says, “there are more students getting off of waitlists, both nationwide and at Lakeside, than I’ve ever seen in my 15 years of doing [college applications].” This is primarily due to the financial needs of schools, who anticipate that some students are going to drop out in the fall or that their international students may not be able to secure visas or safe travel. Thus, colleges may be accepting more students to sustain robust student bodies. “Getting the right number of students is also the right number of tuition revenue,” Mr. Worthman notes.

In addition, Mr. Worthman commends the diminished role of standardized testing this year: “There are only four schools left that are recommending or requiring SAT subject tests… when I first started doing [college counseling], the schools that Lakesiders applied to en masse–probably 75-80% required subject tests. To be 15 years down the road and see only four schools asking for those tests, to me, is a really great thing… the fewer tests we can require [students] to take, the better.” He goes on to say that since fewer and fewer schools are requiring certain tests, “they might very well just die off in the next year or two.”


Mr. Worthman also predicts significant changes for the rising seniors, who will likely face an altered application process. For example, they may not be able to visit schools and will have to conduct their own research remotely; Mr. Worthman says that the pandemic “has created, in a not great way for our students, nonetheless in a national way, a leveling of the playing field because most students do not have the resources to get out there and visit colleges… our students, all of the sudden, have found themselves in that boat a bit if they’re juniors.” Additionally, extracurriculars, particularly in the summer, are being affected by the pandemic: “What about all the stuff that is being cancelled this summer–the summer camps, the college campus classes, the internships, the jobs,” he says. “I think that’s an interesting piece and understandably very unsettling for students… What I’m concerned for our students is that I want them to have good summers and to have things they do and they enjoy and that they feel like they’re learning and growing, still, but that they have time to relax and rest.” He adds, “I think students and families have always placed more emphasis on summers in the college admissions process than there really is.”


For colleges themselves, they may reopen in a variety of ways. Mr. Worthman references “a really interesting article on Inside Higher Ed, about 15 different types of models colleges are looking at in the fall, from being open as normal to being online learning like what we’re doing now, to having these hybrid models of some of your classes online and some in person.” He says that colleges are trying to figure out how to get students to campus and how to teach or restructure schedules to best accommodate safety guidelines. As for when colleges may reopen, Mr. Worthman says that it’s still quite unclear. “I think we’re not going to know until late June or July what colleges are opening,” he says. “Because of the way our country is set up with the state system, I think it’s going to vary state by state and college by college.”

As for what domestic students may do if they drop out? Mr. Worthman talks about the unique sort of gap year students may have: “More students are considering a gap year because of the unpredictability of what college will look like. The unfortunate and really difficult bind that seniors are in, though, is that if the world is still in such an uncertain state that the things are closed and colleges are remote, which is why students want to do a gap year, what do you do with that gap year? Because if that’s how the world is and how colleges are, that also probably means there aren’t going to be a whole lot of internships or travel opportunities or things like that; things that students have typically done with gap years.” He commends the resilience of the seniors, acknowledging the unfortunate circumstances they have been placed in, and says that “while I think lots of our students are disappointed, and they’re scared, which is a normal thing, I think our students are okay.”


COVID-19 has reshaped the way we think about learning. Our schools have adopted technology as a necessity, the application process has reevaluated its priorities, and financial needs have played new roles in the decisions of organizations and educational institutions. Standardized testing may play less and less of a role in the application process, and colleges may admit a greater number of students, with the aid of technology and remote teaching styles. Change and uncertainty have been reshaping the college process every day, and whether they take gap years or not, this year’s seniors will be thrust into a post-pandemic world with its different opportunities and lasting consequences.

At the end of the day, applicants, the application process, and schools will all have to adapt to the uncertainty and change of this period. COVID-19’s lasting effects on the college process are yet to be seen, but the pandemic has already brought about a monumental paradigm shift in higher education in 2020. Mr. Worthman comments, “By the time [the class of 2023] goes through the process, it could be very different. COVID-19 could change what people prioritize in the college process, what they prioritize in higher education… I’m intrigued to see what next year might bring.”