The Gray Area: Applying to Colleges in 2020


Blake Catlett

THE APPLICATION GRIND — Senior Columnist Grayson Catlett gesturing to his CommonApp, which is used to simplify the college application process.

Grayson Catlett, Columnist

With the buildup to Halloween ending, students are about to face something scarier than any movie they have watched or haunted house they have experienced on that night: the college application process.

At the time of writing, the Early Decision I application deadline has already passed, and many students have already taken a shot at quick applications to colleges like East Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. They have also begun to work on financial aid materials, such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the College Scholarship Service (CSS) profile, the Tennessee Promise, or the Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) Scholarship.

One of the biggest changes in the process for this year is the “test-optional” policy for colleges. With many standardized tests cancelled — including the 2021 class’s ACT in March — some students have been ill-equipped or even unable to take the tests that were a requirement for most universities. In an unprecedented adaptation to the times, hundreds of colleges, even some of the most selective in the nation, are allowing students to apply without a required report of ACT or SAT scores.

“I have always thought that colleges should look at more than just GPA and ACT,” college and career advisor Stacy Alexander stated. “Some of greatest students are just horrible at taking tests and they shouldn’t be discouraged from applying to a school they want to attend simply because they don’t have the ‘correct’ ACT score.  The entire student needs to be considered.”

Many colleges have also postponed scholarship, test score, and even application deadlines in lieu of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’ve noticed that a lot of colleges have been more lenient this year and… understand that learning is more difficult now than ever,” said Senior Kinsley Simms.

Despite the clemency, several deadlines are still coming up. The most notable application, the aforementioned FAFSA, is a focus for Alexander as she encourages seniors to complete it.

“I am still trying to get all scholarship information out to the seniors as soon as I get it,” she commented. “I can only send it and remind them to apply for scholarships.”

Alexander also mentioned an upcoming virtual conference on the evening of November 12 that should assist students and their guardians in the completion of the FAFSA. Students and parents interested in this conference can contact Alexander for more information.

“I am hoping that several families will take advantage of the assistance that will be available that night,” she added.

This year has been unprecedented for reasons that I have mentioned ad nauseum. However, with convenient help from colleges and the right amount of drive, I hope that our seniors can overcome these disorderly times in their search for their quickly approaching post-secondary future.