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'There's No Golden Ticket Essay,' Students Adjusting To Changing College Admissions Process

BOSTON (CBS) -- For this year's high school seniors, it will be their first full year in the classroom since they were freshmen. If that was not pressure enough, now they must navigate the difficult process of college admissions.

Admissions expert Casey Near of Collegewise says there are ways to make it easier. First, don't worry about what happened last year during remote learning.

"We were all in the same storm, but in different boats," Casey said. "The big part of admission is learning what boat you are in. So, you're not going to be penalized for something that's out of your control."

That's good news for rising Belmont High School senior Tiffany Hu, who says the admissions process has been trying at times.

"This like coming three months will be a blur for a lot of people and super stressful," she said.

Near advises students not to worry about just one thing, especially the essay or video essay.

"Fixation on the video essay. This is the thing that will get me in. There's a viral TikTok video that got a kid into Harvard. Frankly those of us that work in admission, kind of roll our eyes at that. That's just not how the process works. There's no golden ticket essay," he said.

SATs are now optional at many colleges and universities which opens things up to a more diverse field of students. Casey believes academics are most important thing schools look at, but doing well on the SATs won't hurt you either.

"Test optional doesn't mean you don't submit a score. If you were able to sit for a test and your score is at or above the median range, I recommend you submit your score. It's still first and foremost the classes you took and the grades you received. So, if you're taking challenging AP courses, and honors courses, those are things that are going to count for you."

Be sure to reach out to current students to see if the school of your choice is a good match.

"You can tell a lot about an institution by how they treated their students during the pandemic," says Near. "What do they do when things got really tough? How did they treat their students? That's probably going to be how they treat you."

With the Delta variant of the coronavirus on the rise, students may be out of luck when it comes to on-campus visits.

"There's a lot of colleges, when classes start up, they are going to be a lot more cautious," he added. "I'm predicting most fall tours are not going to be happening."

That's something Hu fears could be detrimental to her school search.

"I feel like a lot of things we have to research are like online or just pre-recorded videos. You get a great sense of what the college and universities offer, but you don't really get a good sense of what it's like to live in an environment."

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