College apps and COVID: Here’s how to explain how the pandemic affected your high school experience


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Every year, the college admissions process involves taking tests, writing essays, compiling transcripts and collecting recommendation letters. This year, it may also involve explaining how the pandemic affected the applicant’s grades, health or family.  

Dr. J. Christopher Fleming, Old Dominion University Executive Director of Admissions, says the pandemic has changed students and their applications.  

“We’ve seen some changes in the number of applicants who are applying, the type of applicants,” said Fleming, who pointed to fewer applications from students of color and those with low family income. 

From all backgrounds, Fleming says he has noticed changes. 

“This pandemic has hampered the involvement of applicants in high school clubs and organizations,” he said. “We also saw an increase in students stepping up to do caregiving-type things.” 

If that describes an applicant’s experience, Fleming says it should be included in the application essay.  

“We won’t know unless the student tells us,” he said. “We’re looking at all components of a student’s file.” 

That means even if a student struggled academically, they’re not necessarily out of the running. 

“The student’s transcript is going to tell a story,” Fleming said. “We’re going to be able to see, freshman year you were strong, sophomore year you were strong, something happened in the junior year, we all know what that is.” 

Fleming said he looks for an academic rebound, as well as evidence of working to overcome pandemic-related challenges.  

“Outline what step you took, how did you assist yourself,” he said. “[How did you] compensate for being online, being that primary caretaker, having to work more and be involved with school activities less.” 

Lastly, Fleming said if an applicant is rejected, they should not consider it a dead end. 

“If we say ‘no’ to a student, our no means ‘not right now,’” Fleming said. “What we will do is put measures in place to assist them on building that academic foundation.” 

Across the country, data shows undergraduate admissions have dropped since the fall of 2020.Locally, Old Dominion and Norfolk State University’s numbers didn’t show a significant drop.

Hampton University’s enrollment was more than 15 percent lower compared to previous years.

Christopher Newport University said its enrollment dipped slightly last year, but administrators expect full enrollment next year.

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