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In the past few weeks, Chicago students have dealt with the consequences of an 11-day teacher’s strike, while millions of California residents have lost power and have even been forced to evacuate their homes.These unforeseen circumstances have presented barriers for high school seniors applying to colleges, including the University of Michigan, in time for early deadlines.
When LSA sophomore Anna Nedoss was applying to colleges two years ago, she relied on her counselor in the Chicago Public School System throughout the process.
However, Chicago students like Nedoss who are applying this year were unable to contact their counselors for 11 days, as the CPS staff and teachers had been on strike through Thursday, when a contract between the city and union was agreed upon. Classes resumed on Friday.
“When I was applying, my counselor was definitely a big resource to me,” Nedoss said. “If you don’t have access to your counselor — the person who actually sends your info to the colleges you’re applying to — it’s not pointless, but there’s definitely barriers you just can’t get past.”
Similarly, in Southern California many schools have been closed for the past week as a result of the fires. Engineering junior Courtney Bagnall lives near the Getty area, the location of wildfire that began early Monday morning and was only 15 percent contained by Wednesday. Bagnall lives far enough away that her family was not required to evacuate, but close enough that her family members could see smoke through the window. As a result, the local high school was closed multiple days this week.
In addition to needing counselors to submit information on behalf of their students, teachers —who are on strike in Chicago and possibly evacuating their homes in South California — often write letters of recommendation for students. These letters are considered part of a complete application for colleges and cannot be submitted by students in most cases.
The situations high school seniors in these areas face highlight obstacles students encounter when trying to submit early college applications this year. Nedoss noted a lack of access to internet at home and public transportation to get to a public library like many students in Chicago. Bagnall questioned how students and faculty could submit documents online with the widespread power outages and mandated evacuations.
“I don’t know how you would deal with not having a computer and not having your counselor reading the application or simply just sending in the teacher recommendations,” Bagnall said. “I don’t know how that would happen by the deadline if class is still cancelled and the fires are still going.”
Some colleges around the country have responded to these circumstances by extending deadlines or announcing planned accommodations for students from impacted areas.
Columbia University in New York City extended their deadline to Nov. 10 for students impacted by extreme weather in Southern California and North Texas. While the school is encouraging CPS students to turn in their applications by Nov. 1, they will be lenient with the submission of the supplemental documents, such as transcripts and letters, that schools must submit.
For CPS students specifically, the University of Chicago and University of Illinois at Chicago have extended some early deadlines. Additionally, Northwestern University and Loyola University Chicago said they will make accommodations for students sending in supporting documents after schools reopen.
Students are able to apply for individual exemptions to the Nov. 1 deadline at U-M, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald wrote in an email to The Daily. However, the University will not be giving out any blanket exemptions. Fitzgerald explained it is important for students to share “as much information as possible” with the Admissions Department regarding the need for an exemption.
“The Undergraduate Admissions team works to remain abreast of extenuating circumstances that may delay an early-action application from a student,” Fitzgerald wrote. “Each year the Office of Undergraduate Admissions considers and grants exceptions on an individual basis.”
If an applicant does not meet the Nov. 1 early application deadline for the University, their application will be part of the regular decision pool, which has a deadline for Feb. 1. Applications and all supporting materials must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 1 to be considered for the EA pool.
Fitzgerald noted the University receives nearly 40,000 EA applications each year. He explained the admissions team uses a holistic review process and remains committed to releasing EA application decisions by Dec. 24.
The main advantage of EA is for students to receive their admission decision earlier. An EA applicant whose decision is postponed, or “deferred,” becomes part of the regular decision pool. All applicants are guaranteed a final decision by early April.
Eleanor Eckerson Peters is the assistant director of policy research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, a nonpartisan nonprofit committed to ensuring access to and success within higher education located in Washington D.C. She said early deadlines can make it difficult to achieve equity in the accessibility of colleges, especially for low-income, first-generation and non-traditional students.
“There are a number of pressures that institutions, or a number of factors that institutions are considering, when they are setting these deadlines and would influence this decision,” Eckerson Peters said. “Being able to react and acknowledge that students are facing unexpected obstacles to being able to put together their best application is laudable and definitely something institutions can and should be doing.”
Outside of submitting the actual applications, LSA sophomore Laura Vankoughnett, another CPS alum, said the quality of students’ applications are being impacted by the school closures. Vankoughnett said CPS students who play fall sports, for example, could not participate in play-offs and then include this in their applications because of the strike.
While Vankoughnett said the strike is warranted, she said students have been impacted in many ways, and colleges should take measures to ensure seniors who cannot apply by the deadline are supported. Vankoughnett explained the strike could hurt students from low-income households or students who would be first-generation college students the most.
“(For) the kids who don’t come from families who have gone to college or don’t have siblings who have gone through the college application process, it would have to be a lot more difficult to get your essays in on time and things like that, considering your top resource is your teachers,” Vankoughnett said.