MERHS Juniors Carson Komishane and Lilly Marletta

For many high school juniors who plan to attend college, spring signifies the beginning of a complex process: college admissions. As buds appear on the trees and the air gets warmer, juniors at Manchester Essex Regional High School are taking the first steps toward higher education, mapping out their college lists and asking their high school teachers to write them recommendation letters for their applications.

Something is different for this year’s juniors: a college application season has come and gone during a global pandemic, leaving the admissions landscape transformed in its wake.

According to FairTest, more than 1,425 accredited, four-year colleges and universities have adopted test-optional policies for students who are applying to enroll in the fall of 2022, a staggering increase from the previous 14 in the fall of 2019.

However, many students are still planning to take standardized tests in order to have the option to submit their scores.

Junior Aidan Cunningham said he is doing SAT prep and trying his best to study for the exam as though it is not optional.

“I’m still going to try to do well on it, and if I do well, I obviously will submit it to colleges for them to see,” he said.

Cunningham said he thinks testing is one of his strong points in the admissions process.

“I think it’s something that could help boost my resume in comparison to other kids who don’t include their SAT,” he said.

Junior Lilly Marletta said she will also be taking the SAT in the near future. “If I get a good score on it, then it will make me stand out,” she said.

Junior Carson Komishane got an early start on SAT testing. So far, she has taken the exam a total of three times and plans to take it again.

“It’s just an added factor to applications, but I do like that there’s an option for if I don’t do as well, and I can just not even send them in,” she said.

Another hurdle in the Class of 2022’s process: many colleges have not offered in-person tours for the past year. For those that do, tours are limited to just several people at a time, and introductory presentations and information sessions have been eliminated from their offerings, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Instead, some students have opted for self-guided tours of college campuses, while others stick to virtual tours online.

Marletta said she traveled to Rhode Island to visit schools over the February vacation, but she did not attend guided tours.

“You definitely see a lot more when you’re in a tour,” she said. “When you’re on your own… you don’t really get a feel for what’s in the classrooms and what the sizes are.”

Marletta said at this point in her process, she does not yet know what she wants to do for her career, which makes it more difficult to search for schools with a specific major in mind.

“I think I need to… figure out what’s most important to me… and then I can go from there and see which colleges offer me the most of those things,” she said.

“I know it probably should mostly be up to me, but I don’t really know yet what I should be looking for, or what location, or what size,” Marletta said.

Cunningham said instead of taking road trips to visit specific colleges he is interested in; he has looked at schools around Boston.

“I could just go to these colleges and kind of get a feel for a large school, a small school, a school in the city or not in the city. While it wasn’t at the specific colleges that I'm interested in, it was just the overall feeling,” he said.

Cunningham said he is interested in attending a school with both engineering and business programs because he is interested in mechanical engineering and thinks a business major will be useful.

Similarly, to many juniors, Cunningham said he has a large list of colleges that he has yet to narrow down. He said he will spend the summer “buckling down and figuring out where [he] should be in the process.”

Komishane said she is currently touring schools over Zoom and in person. The only in-person tour she attended did not allow visitors to enter campus buildings, she said.

Komishane said she is exploring the colleges’ websites to determine the right fit for her “based on size and location” and other important factors.

Komishane, who is currently a high school swimmer and may want to swim in college, said she is communicating with swim coaches and admissions officers to see if recruitment is possible, but for her, swimming is secondary to academics.

“I’m more into choosing the school based on where I want to go, and if I can swim, it’s a benefit,” Komishane said.

Without the availability of conventional tours early in the juniors’ college searches, they have dealt with uncertainty surrounding their college lists.

Cunningham said, “I feel like most people are definitely uncertain about the whole college planning process even without a pandemic, and then given the new guidelines that colleges imposed… it’s definitely made things a lot more difficult.”

“I think because I’ve never gone through this before, it would still be confusing anyway,” he said.

As juniors attended online school, separation from their peers transformed the college process from mass mania to a solitary search.

Cunningham said, “I feel like not being in person with other kids and talking about planning for college has kind of made it seem more of… a personal and individual thing.”

He said going through the process in a more unified way could make the class more connected, but it could also cause more stress.

Komishane said she is excited to continue the process.

“I think as things open up… we’ll have a pretty good shot at having a somewhat normal college experience and college application process,” she said.

“It’s going to be a little difficult to adjust after the year we’ve just had, but I think once we find our bearings, we’re going to be in a good situation,” Komishane said.

Olivia Turner is a student at Manchester Essex Regional High School, Co-editor of the school newspaper, The Independent, and a student writer for The Cricket.