Conversations about College Admissions at Winsor

By Gigi C. ’23 and Lauren H. ’23

College. Does this word ring a bell? For many high school students, the idea of college is an especially overwhelming and daunting topic. Not only does the college process build pressure, but the admissions process can be painstakingly tedious. With the new addition of COVID and the challenges that it brings, college remains an anxious topic for Winsor students as the process becomes ever-changing. Life after high school is certainly terrifying. Not only is it a monumental stride in one’s professional and academic career, but it is also a huge leap out of one’s comfort zone. Leaving friends and family behind to pursue new goals is difficult, but according to Ms. Graham, “worth the risk.”

The restless and anxious environment that surrounds Winsor’s seniors as they continue the college process is not new. Even juniors and underclassmen can feel the overwhelming tension rising as the countdown to due dates draws ever nearer. So how does it work? Is it really that difficult? With interviews, applications, and multiple essay drafts, it is clear that this is not an easy undertaking. We were fortunate enough to interview a variety of individuals at Winsor to gain a better sense of the college admission process, as well as how it has been affected by COVID. So take a seat, grab a cup of tea, and join us for some conversations on college admissions. 

College applications are difficult enough. With Winsor’s new hybrid model, some students and college counselors have shared their thoughts on both the pros and cons of the virtual college process. English teacher and college counselor, Ms. Graham states that “while it is still pretty difficult to pick up the ‘vibe’ of campus online, [college counselors] have noticed that students are doing more research virtually than they did pre-pandemic and know more about the programs and characteristics of the schools they are considering.” You have probably heard it over and over again: choosing a college is one of the most important decisions you will make. Some say that where you attend college will have a lasting impact on your personal and professional life. But the truth is, many students select a college based on emotion, the feel of the campus, or a very limited set of criteria. While this won’t preclude you from academic success, such an important decision should probably undergo a higher level of scrutiny. If you’re looking for your ideal college, you’re going to want to consider a broad range of factors, such as location, size, cost, academic quality, campus safety, choice of majors, as well as other factors that are important to you personally. As a result of virtual tours, students are more likely to learn about colleges through independent research. 

Not only do virtual tours alter the college admission process drastically, but they also impact the importance of some standardized tests, such as SAT subject tests, which seem to be becoming almost obsolete. Ever heard of “test blind?” This concept, adopted by colleges such as MIT, is challenging the importance of some types of College Board testing. Test blind essentially refers to the idea that some colleges, when assessing students and their applications, will refuse to look at SAT subject test scores and focus instead on their transcript and extracurriculars. Even if the score is a true source of pride and a symbol of hard work, it will still be omitted in the official applications. COVID has made this term not only applicable to subject tests, but also the official SAT and ACT. While most Winsor students are recommended to take the SAT or ACT, this option is not always available to families with lower income rates or socio-economic status. Not only do these standardized tests highlight the inconsistencies in college admission applicants, but with the raging pandemic, being able to even take the test has become less of a given. Annie A. ’21 recounts how she “was luckily able to take the test again in July,” but that she “had to drive to upstate New York to take it.” Similar to Annie, some juniors and seniors were forced to drive to states as far as Virginia in order to take a mere sixty minute exam. 

One of the upsides of the college process is visiting all the unique campuses and getting a firsthand view of the student life at each university, as well as imagining yourself in their shoes. COVID has not just created much uncertainty within the college admission process, but has also made it difficult for seniors to virtually envision themselves on campus. Annie notes, “I used to want to leave Boston entirely but given how much uncertainty there is, I’ve been more drawn to schools whose campuses and students I’m already familiar with.” The effect of COVID is heavily impacting these consequential decisions, giving students more time to thoughtfully consider their college decisions. Arguably, one of the most important factors when choosing a college to attend is finding the right fit. Students should try to find a college that speaks to their interests and provides the most engaging education and unique opportunities. So what can you control? According to Ms. Graham, the two main pieces of advice she gives to help students prepare for future college admissions would be to “focus on their schoolwork” and “develop their extracurricular interests.” She emphasizes that “the transcript is still the most important piece of any admission file”, and that “quality is absolutely more important than quantity when it comes to extracurriculars; no one can ‘do everything’ nor do colleges expect them to.” With these main goals in mind, the chaos of the college process subsides a bit for the underclassmen. Ms. Graham states that “the college process is about individuals and their unique qualities; there is no magic formula or ‘secret sauce’ that guarantees admission to any particular college.” As snippets of senior conversations reflect another level of Winsor stress, it is important that we all remind ourselves that we are perfectly amazing the way we are. In addition, college admissions does not define your intellectual or athletic capabilities, but rather, provides an opportunity for you to further your education and pursue your personal interests. Although discussing universities and the unpredictability of acceptances seems frightening and maybe a little stressful, it is equally important to remember that you are not alone in the process.