COVID-19 and Education: a Silver Lining?

New York City closed their public schools on November 19 due to a rising COVID positivity rate. I expect other school systems to follow in the coming weeks.

COVID has set students back no matter their socio-economic status. Yes, the pandemic has hit some more than others ... but I believe academic expectations for nearly everyone will be more relaxed for some time to come.

Less emphasis on grades and exam scores is good, particularly for high school students — now and in the future. It's tough to compare the grades from one school to another. College admissions tests ceased to be a test of student aptitude decades ago, with all the resources available to prepare for them.

What is the solution then? I have long felt that colleges and universities should put a greater emphasis on interviewing students for places in their schools, especially borderline candidates.

Beyond the numbers, does this student "have a good head on their shoulders?" Would he or she fit into your school? What do they want to do in college? What do they want to do after college?

Of course, more interviews requires additional resources ... but I think it's a worthy investment. I imagine it would cut down on students who perform poorly or transfer from the school. Better student fit leads to happier students leads to more generous alumni giving!

In-person interviews would be ideal, but Zoom or Skype calls are much better than nothing. Perhaps this will be a lasting legacy of the pandemic on college admissions?

And let's face it: interviews are way more real than personal statements often crafted by, or at least heavily edited by, parents, teachers, or professional advisors.

I think the value of recommendation letters is also limited, though not useless.

When I write a recommendation for a student, I try to give the reader a sense of who my student is as a person, and what makes them special compared to the thousands of other students I've encountered over the years.

This is no time for a "boilerplate" rec letter, something I remember seeing some of my high school teachers and counselors write for "iffy" classmates!

Here's hoping admissions committees place more emphasis on trying to measure the less tangible aspects of a prospective student ... aspects that determine whether or not the candidate is likely to thrive as an undergraduate at their institution.

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