COVID-19 creates difficulties for grad school applicants

Tess Hemmila—Staff Writer

Across the country, colleges and universities are scrambling to adapt their admissions processes for graduate programs in light of COVID-19. At this time of the year, many Dordt seniors are beginning to consider graduate programs. 

Graduate school enrollment rose by 2.7 percent while undergraduate enrollment dropped by 4 percent, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Despite the complications of attending college during COVID-19, students across the country are still competing for spots in graduate programs.  

Many universities have undergone a large change by waiving standardized test requirements for their graduate programs, most notably the GRE. The GRE, similar to the SAT, gauges each student’s abilities in three sections: quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, and analytical writing. The GRE is used by graduate schools as a crucial element of the application process for potential graduate students.  

Senior Lindsey Slenk felt surprised when she started researching graduate programs and realized that none of her desired masters social work programs were requiring the GRE due to COVID-19.

“I was relieved that I didn’t need to take the GRE because I just want to enjoy my senior year and that would have required me to give up a lot of time to study and take the test,” Slenk said.

However, many students across the country are facing the added pressure of trying to take the GRE online so that they can apply to programs that still require GRE scores. Over 50,000 prospective applicants have taken the GRE General Test online since the test shifted to an online format in March, according to the Educational Testing Service (ETS).

Sam De Penning, a senior at Dordt, recently undertook the challenge of taking the GRE online. Some of the graduate engineering programs that De Penning plans on applying to have not waived the GRE requirements, so he had no choice but to take the GRE online. 

“Taking the GRE online was convenient but created unexpected stress of having to have the proper environment to take it, as well as the materials and computer capabilities for it,” De Penning said.  

ETS has created a new set of requirements that specify exactly where students are allowed to take their online GRE to prevent test takers from cheating. While taking the GRE, the student is only allowed to have specific writing materials, such as a whiteboard, in the room and they are monitored for the duration of the test. If the test is interrupted or the student is suspected of cheating, the GRE test can be cancelled, or the score deemed invalid. 

In addition to GRE changes, many graduate schools have also stopped in-person campus visits and have moved events for potential students to an online format. Many graduate programs are hosting online Zoom calls and open houses to engage with interested students and help answer questions about applications. These events provide some connection with the university, but they do not provide the same experience as an in-person visit. 

When Slenk started looking into the social work program at the University of Minnesota, she quickly realized in-person visits were not feasible, but found a way to interact with counselors and professors at the school by attending a Zoom open-house. Along with roughly 40 other potential students, Slenk asked questions, learned about the application requirements, and heard about the experiences of current MSW students. 

“I wish it was more in-person because then I could have seen the campus and got a better feel for the program there,” Slenk said. “My visit with them on the Zoom call was awesome but, if the MSW program is only online next year, that will definitely impact my decision.”

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