Future Illini reflect on unprecedented application process

By Liz Gremer, Contributing Writer

The process of applying to college is a difficult task for many, from asking for letters of recommendation to writing countless essays and sending out transcripts. However, many incoming students found this process to be further complicated by the global pandemic.
This year, due to COVID-19, the application and admissions process was unique from years prior, said Andy Borst, director of undergraduate admissions. Major differences included making ACT/SAT scores optional, delaying the early action deadline and releasing all admissions decisions on the same date.
“Many students were admitted to highly competitive programs without test scores,” Borst said. “Our priority was on evaluating students’ applications within the context of limited testing options during a global pandemic. We were diligent in ensuring that if a student elected to be considered without a test score, they were not disadvantaged in our review.”
Approximately 44% of applicants applied test-optional. The Academic Senate recently voted to extend the test-optional application for the next two years, and the board of trustees will discuss this matter at their next meeting.
Given the new requirements for applications this year, Abby Hammer, incoming freshman in LAS, said the process of applying to the University was simpler and not as stressful in comparison to other schools.
“Because of COVID-19, a lot of (standardized tests) were being moved to a later date,” Hammer said. “When I was applying to UIUC, I hadn’t taken any, but it was a really great selling point for me and made the whole application process more relaxing in comparison to some other schools I applied to.”
The pandemic prompted the Office of Admissions to update its services for prospective students, such as providing new virtual alternatives for students to learn about campus with an updated virtual tour video. Additionally, Borst said students have the opportunity to learn about the University through virtual information sessions, one-on-one appointments with admissions counselors, group sessions, academic meetings and non-academic meetings.
Since all in-person tours are cancelled, applicants faced a disadvantage. However, many students have utilized virtual resources and planned day trips to campus. Incoming students who visited campus in person still found a sense of home at the University despite the pandemic and the changes it has brought.
“After stepping onto campus, I totally felt at peace and at home, which is crazy to say since I’ve only visited once or twice,” Hammer said. “But after seeing the students thriving on campus,
totally gave me the sense of home. It just made me feel really great to visit campus and get the feeling of belonging.”
Like every year of admissions, prospective students considered many factors when deciding which college to attend. The reason why students choose to come to the University has stayed the same.
Lauren Debs, incoming freshman in Education, said the special education program influenced her decision to commit.
“I picked UIUC for many reasons,” Debs said. “It’s a reasonable distance from my hometown, which I was looking for in a college. It also has a really fantastic special education program which separated itself from other schools I applied to. Just in general, the school really did feel like a home away from home.”
Although predicting what the future holds is difficult when there is still so much uncertainty around the pandemic, incoming students are excited for their experience at the University. As the vaccine rolls out and the number of COVID-19 cases decrease, incoming students hope to have an experience different from the past year.
Debs said the transition from high school to college is a major change but that she is hopeful for what the fall semester will bring.
“My senior year was definitely impacted by COVID-19, so I anticipate the academic transition to be slightly more difficult than in the past,” Debs said. “But it will be nice to really get to know people with similar interests as me. When I come to campus, I plan on rushing, participating on club tennis and just finding new opportunities to help me grow.”
As the University plans for the upcoming semester in regard to class instruction and COVID-19 protocol, Hammer said she has a sense of hope and excitement for the future.
“I know we might still be wearing masks when I get down here, but I am hoping for more socialization,” Hammer said. “I’m hoping to have somewhat of a social experience because I am the type of person who loves to get involved with things in my community.”

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