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What More Than 300 College Admissions Deans Are Looking For During The Pandemic

If you're worried about how the coronavirus pandemic is impacting your college applications, a statement endorsed by more than 300 college admissions deans might provide some relief.

The statement from Harvard University's Graduate School of Education is titled"What We Care About in This Time of Crisis." It emphasizes that admissions officers will understand if some normal avenues for beefing up a college résumé are curtailed by the pandemic.

The admissions officers stress that they recognize that students and their families may be struggling right now. They say explicitly that students will not be disadvantaged if they don't participate in extracurricular activities at this time.

The statement says applicants should not feel stressed if they are not in a position to complete public service, a traditional aspect of a college application.

"Our interest is not in whether students created a new project or demonstrated leadership during this period," the statement says. "We, emphatically, do not seek to create a competitive public service 'Olympics' in response to this pandemic. What matters to us is whether students' contribution or service is authentic and meaningful to them and to others. ... We will assess these contributions and service in the context of the obstacles students are facing."

In particular, the deans point out that family contributions, such as providing family income or taking care of relatives, are very much worthy of listing on an application and will be viewed positively by admissions officers.

The statement also makes clear that no applicant will be penalized for a change in academic circumstances, which includes testing, because of the pandemic.

"No student will be disadvantaged because of a change in commitments or a change in plans because of this outbreak, their school's decisions about transcripts, the absence of AP or IB tests, their lack of access to standardized tests (although many of the colleges represented here don't require these tests), or their inability to visit campus," the statement says.

The reassurance about the application process comes at a time when many other aspects of college life — and getting into college — are changing. More and more schools have made standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT optional because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The deans encourage students to be "gentle with themselves" and prioritize self-care.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Austin Horn is a 2019-2020 Kroc Fellow. He joined NPR after internships at the San Antonio Express-News and Frankfort State-Journal, as well as a couple stints in the service industry. He aims to keep his reporting grounded in the experience of real individuals of all stripes.