In a college application season like no other, students who have seen every aspect of their lives disrupted by the coronavirus are grappling with how to show their potential.

High school seniors around the U.S. are facing January and February college application deadlines without SAT and ACT entrance exam scores, community service records and resumes flush with extracurricular activities — all casualties of an era of social distancing and remote learning that has carried over from their junior year.

The pandemic has prompted colleges to make tests optional and find new ways to evaluate students, including student-athletes, like southern California high school senior Anthony Correra. The pandemic canceled his last football season, shortening the highlight tapes that he’d hoped to share with college recruiters.

“Colleges and universities don’t have the same tools that they did to evaluate students before,” said Angel Perez, chief executive of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, or NACAC. “The experience that students are going through right now is drastically different from many others.”

For the first time, the Common Application that allows students to apply to multiple institutions at the same time added an optional space so students can explain in 250 words or less the pandemic’s impacts.

A sampling of responses provided to The Associated Press illustrate the pandemic’s academic, emotional and financial toll.

“My parents losing their jobs made it very hard financially and we struggled to get by,” a student wrote. “It was already hard before the pandemic but with the low amount of money flowing in as a result of Covid-19’s safe to say our situations got even worse.”

Others wrote of struggling to focus alongside siblings and parents in noisy households disrupted by work and school Zoom calls, or of money and technology challenges.

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“We want to provide colleges with the information they need, with the goal of having students answer COVID-19 questions only once while using the rest of the application as they would have before to share their interests and perspectives beyond COVID-19,” the nonprofit Common Application said.

Correra, an all-season athlete at Grand Terrace High School in California, said he hadn’t thought much about college until recently, describing a side effect of life on what he called “quarantine time” where months and milestones pass unremarkably. He has applied to schools in the University of California and California State University systems, as well as some private colleges.

The colleges that have shown interest have been understanding because so many students are in the same situation, said his father, Mike Correra.

“It’s been kind of refreshing a little bit because I’m not as stressed as I was,” said Mike Correra, who said one coach even viewed his cellphone video from his son’s games.

Colleges have been eager to work with applicants amid concerns about enrollment declines and an alarming drop in the number of potential students, particularly low-income students, filling out financial aid documents — an indicator they may not pursue college.

Very competitive colleges, though, have had the opposite problem of trying to juggle large numbers of students who …read more

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