Applying to college can be overwhelming. Applicants have to contend with lofty admissions requirements, a barrage of deadlines differing by school and an array of essay topics that leave 500 words to share a life story.
Now, there is also the added hurdle of the COVID-19 pandemic. When COVID-19 shut down Florida schools in March, it also interrupted state testing and college entrance exams. Some students are still struggling to catch up.
Current Alachua County high school seniors, already stressed out by college applications and the pandemic, are also battling SAT and ACT exam cancelations and a limited number of testing sites, said Jennifer Taylor, supervisor of school counseling and student services in Alachua County Public Schools.
“Everything kind of stopped, and it was difficult for students,” Taylor said.
Some colleges and universities across the country are waiving college testing requirements due to the additional hurdles to testing in the current environment. However, no major public Florida universities are among them.
For Florida students, college entrance exam testing is a key element for statewide scholarships.
Gov. Ron DeSantis extended the deadline for the Bright Futures Scholarship Program to December for the Class of 2020. In past years, students generally had until the end of August. Florida students who already graduated have more time to meet testing requirements for the program, which awards lottery-funded scholarships for those who meet specific test scores, volunteer hours and grade point averages.
DeSantis hasn’t extended the Bright Futures deadline for current seniors. It remains Aug. 31, 2021.
Information from the Florida Department of Education reveals that about 32,000 2020 Florida seniors met all other Bright Futures requirements except for their ACT or SAT scores. About 8,000 more students may qualify for Bright Futures if they retake the SAT or ACT and score higher.
Now, current college freshman and high school seniors may be scrambling to take college entrance exams before Dec. 1 to meet the scholarship’s requirements or college application deadlines.
However, taking exams can be a challenge with limited capacity at testing sites and colleges not extending deadlines.
So far, UF has not extended its Nov. 1 college application deadline. In the past, UF has extended deadlines in certain cases, as when Hurricane Matthew impacted applications across the state.
Fifty-three test centers for the Oct. 3 test day had disruptions, and 36 were closed, according to the list of Florida SAT test centers. One of two centers in Gainesville was closed. There is only one more test date on Nov. 7 before the new deadline for meeting Bright Futures requirements.
For the Nov. 7 test date, six of the 312 potential closed so far, according to information on the College Board website.
The ACT has felt similar disruptions. There was only one test Oct. 10 at Gainesville High School for the entire county. Future offerings are after the Bright Futures deadline.
Florida puts more money into merit-based scholarships than need-based scholarships when compared to other states, Holly Bullard, chief strategy and development officer at the Florida Policy Institute, an independent public policy research nonprofit, wrote in an email.
“The lack of investment in need-based aid means we are underinvesting in our students of color,” Bullard wrote.
White students are more likely to receive the scholarship than students of color, according to 2019-2020 data from Bright Futures. About 56% of the aid was given to white students, compared to 4% to Black students and 25% to Hispanic students. Census data shows Florida is about 53% white, about 17% Black and about 26% Hispanic.
“I think in this time of COVID-19 and the barriers for the SAT for all families, we should reexamine the barriers to economic mobility for certain Floridians, and why they’re there,” she wrote.
In Alachua County, DeSantis' extension allowed more students to test and still be eligible for the scholarship program, Taylor said. However, she doesn’t know how many ACPS students might have been affected by the governor’s decision.
The ACT can also act in place of certain standardized tests, which measure a student’s understanding and preparedness on certain subjects, she said. These exams, like the Florida Standards Assessments, are sometimes required to pass on to the next grade or graduate.
In-person and Digital Academy students will be able to access testing on campus, such as the PSAT, the preliminary SAT, and ACT, which are now being administered to juniors who weren’t able to test last year, Taylor said.
Digital Academy students will come into schools and test separately from brick-and-mortar students, she said. The county PSAT tests dates are Oct. 14 for in-person students and Oct. 17 for Digital Academy students. The ACT was Oct. 6 for in-person students and will be Oct. 20 for Digital Academy students.