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How the COVID-19 pandemic changed the college prep experience for high schoolers

Many students are taking tests for college entrance and counselors at one Valley school are helping students navigate the changes to the prep process.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Our ongoing “Learning Curve” series, focusing on education. continues with a topic that's at the top of mind for many high school juniors and seniors right now - preparing for college.    

Now is the time many students are taking tests for college entrance and counselors at one Valley school are hard at work helping students navigate the changes to the college prep process brought on by the pandemic.  

The senior year sprint is underway.

“We have the senior thesis, which is a 15-page essay that will be due by the end of the year… we have colleges of course and then normal school on top of that,” said Jeremy Holford, senior at Great Hearts Scottsdale Prep.

Students are hard at work preparing for the next step.  

“I’m applying to a lot of universities… University of Michigan, Yale,” said Emma Pophal, who’s also a senior.

“Hillsdale College in Michigan or Baylor,” Holford said.

Filling out applications, prepping for entrance exams, and researching grants and scholarships have always been stressful.

“It is a bit overwhelming,” Pophal said.

But students are now having to navigate changes to the process brought on by the pandemic.

“More zoom meetings, less personal meetings… whether schools consider tests,” Holford said. “It’s harder to get an SAT done.”

“Virtual tours they’re doing… it’s very interactive and I love it,” Pophal said.

College counselor Laney Smith says the biggest impact she’s seen is restricted testing access.

“Certainly, it increased equity for many students in their access to some of those resources, but it is a slight disadvantage for students who would’ve tested well, to not have that opportunity,” she said.

Smith says the pandemic also affected students’ mental health and being mindful of your emotional wellbeing during the college process is key to making this a positive experience.

“To recognize it as activation, right? It’s excitement for something we care deeply about,” Smith said.

Jeremy and Emma are staying on track and optimistic.

“I’m thinking of business, maybe psychology,” Holford said.

“I want to pursue medicine,” Pophal said.

But for now, they’re taking things one step at a time.

“We’re going to see where I get in and we’re going to decide then,” she said.

If you have a story or issue about education, you’d like us to cover or look into, email us at connect@12news.com.

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