Kingswood Oxford seniors share the ups and downs of the 2021 college application season

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In 2021, the number of college applications skyrocketed, with the increase in applications reaching up to 102%. After the decision of many schools to go test-optional became mainstream, the application game changed.  Not having to submit SAT or ACT scores was a dream come true for some students, but a nightmare for others.  

Applying to college in 2020-2021 opened up opportunities that many students wouldn’t have had in previous years due to their SAT and ACT scores; however, this increased the amount of students applying to schools, so the acceptance rates dropped dramatically. I sat down with three seniors, Issy Rome, Emily Karasik, and Braeden Rose to hear about how the process went for them.  Each senior was impacted differently and had very unique experiences when applying to colleges this year.    

“I think that the most impactful part of it for me was the test optional part of the application,” senior Issy Rome said.  “The standardized test portion would have been the part of the application that would have been the worst, so I got very lucky in that sense.”

Although she was planning on applying to six schools, Issy ended up only applying to one school, since she was accepted to her early decision top-choice school, Barnard College. 

Throughout her college application journey, Issy called attention to the many changes from a normal year.  Online info sessions, delayed college touring, and online tours were only some of the changes.  “Barnard’s in New York,” she said, “so I’ve seen the school, but a lot of people were not able to tour their colleges, so it completely changed the game. We had all these online info sessions everyday. It was just a completely different process.”

While speaking with Issy, I could tell by the way her eyes lit up how eager she is to move to New York and attend Barnard.  She’s excited to live in the city and to have a new independent lifestyle.  “I’m so excited to live in new york city and to have that be my campus, and meet new people.” 

For other students, however, going test optional was a major inconvenience.  For senior Emily Karasik, the increase in applications made applying to college much more difficult.  “There were actually so many more applicants than usual to all of the colleges because no schools required SATs or ACTs,” Emily said,  “so that allows students to reach higher schools even if they didn’t have a good SAT/ACT score.  So, there were thousands of applicants to each college.”  

Senior Braeden Rose, who applied to 23 schools, felt similarly. “Every selective school on my list reported huge increases in their application numbers without an increase in size of the class—even with a decrease in some instances due to deferrals from the class of 2024 to the class of 2025 due to COVID-19,” he said. “So overall, the process was quite stressful but doable and not as bad as I imagined.” 

Noticing the increasing rates of college applications, many students, including Emily, felt they had no choice but to apply to more schools to increase their odds of getting accepted.  “I actually applied to extra schools because of COVID-19,” Emily said, ”because I was worried because there were so many applicants I would get rejected places that I wouldn’t normally, so I applied to more places.”

Emily decided to attend Tufts University.  

Emily Karasik shows off her Tufts sweatshirt, happy to be done with the college process. Photo courtesy of Allie Arcaro ’24.

Applying to college is already difficult, but applying to extra colleges exacerbates the pressure.  A part of applying to college is writing personalized essays for every school, so for students like Emily who applied to 15 or more colleges, a lot of time is consumed by perfecting various applications.  “There were more supplemental essays than I thought there would be,” Emily said, “so I ended up spending my entire winter break writing essays.”

With the weight of the COVID-19 pandemic on our shoulders, the stress level is already through the roof for many students.  Adding college applications and additional essays on top of that does nothing but make things even more difficult.  

   Overall, 2021 has proven to be a hard year to be a senior applying to college; however, the Kingswood Oxford seniors prevailed through the tough times.