College Admissions Process Successful For Many Students Despite a Sea of Challenges

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Any Malibu High School student—and most of their parents—can tell you the challenges of the college admissions process. It’s fraught with hard-to-navigate applications, essays, transcripts and test scores—not to mention the anxiety of college tours, scholarships, tuition and financial aid. With so many hoops to jump through and decisions to be made, even without a pandemic, it’s one of the most stressful parts of high school. Despite the challenges of the year, it appears Malibu High School seniors have continued to land spots at many competitive colleges and universities.

By sheer lucky timing, Linh Snyder, college and career counselor at MHS, was able to meet with the then-junior class last spring right before distance learning was imposed. Each of the 147 now-seniors got at least one face-to-face meeting to start planning his or her strategy. 

“I have an open-door policy for students to ask any questions and get correct information,” Snyder commented. 

“[It’s tough] not being physically able to see them, because a lot of times it’s easier for students to stop in rather that open an email or call,” Snyder said. Still, according to the college admissions expert, “MHS students have been really responsive in virtual communication.” Part of that is due to another serious interruption that took place earlier in their high school careers—the Woolsey Fire. “They were more prepared than a lot of other students because we had a virtual learning experience when we went through the wildfire,” Snyder said. 

With most testing sites closed this past year, many universities decided to forgo requiring standardized testing such as SAT or ACT, which added another unknown into the stressful application mix. Without test scores, some students struggled to apply to colleges within their academic profile. 

“They just relied on their applications, personal statement, letters of recommendation and their academic transcripts,” according to Snyder.  That allowed some to “cast a wider net this year. On average, students typically apply to eight schools. This year, it was 10. They wanted to make sure they applied broadly because we didn’t know what that college admissions [process] was going to look like without test scores.” Snyder said some kids even drove out of state to take SATs.

As is typical of MHS, the Class of 2021 has “gotten into some amazing schools,” according to Snyder. Four MHS seniors were admitted to UCLA, which gets the most applicants of any school in the nation. Many were admitted to prestigious East Coast universities including a few to Ivy League schools. A handful of students decided to take a gap year. A few opted out entirely and elected instead to start working.

Despite the pandemic, Snyder said she didn’t really see a difference in the acceptance rates to competitive colleges this year. 

“Our students did really well. Most of the kids were satisfied with their acceptances,” the counselor stated. 

“With current juniors starting the SAT process, they think test scores will make or break them and it didn’t really change for our students this year. Only 30 [junior class] students sat for the test at MHS in April,” Snyder continued. “Going into the next round of admissions, many colleges have extended their test-optional policies. UC and state schools are ‘test blind,’ which means that even if a student took the exam, they are not going to consider that for admissions purposes.”

There is also a new trend—staying a bit closer to home.

“What we’re seeing with this class is we have more students staying in state with UCs. Usually, our students choose to go private or out of state. This year, we’ve seen an increase in students who are committed to UCSD, UCLA and UCSB,” Snyder explained. 

2021 senior Frankie Cloete will matriculate at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore. 

“I think it’s the perfect fit for me with small class sizes after coming from Malibu,” Cloete said. “I’m really excited.”

Snyder reflected on the class of 2021: “They’re really impressive. I’m so proud of all of them. There were a lot of unknowns throughout the admissions process. They pushed through and were focused.”