By Blessings Chingrande,
Special to the AFRO

Rising high school seniors in Montgomery County say they are hesitant to apply for college because the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t allow for school administrations to adequately prepare students to meet college demands.

“I don’t know where to start, or how to navigate or go about it,” said Hemen Daniel, 18, a student at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School in Bethesda, Md. “I’m terrified for the upcoming year.” 

In addition to feeling unprepared for college, she doesn’t know what colleges to set her sights on or what to study. Daniel attributes this lack of readiness to a lack of support and said that the disruptions brought about by the pandemic caused her grades to tank.

Even though she participated in College Tracks, a school-based college prep program geared towards would-be first generation college students, Daniels said she feels like the lack of one-on-one attention blinded teachers from students’ dwindling academic performance. 

“College Tracks helps, but not in a personal way,” she said. 

Estefany German-Contreras, 18,  also witnessed her grades fall during the pandemic. The academic marks caused her to reconsider whether she even wants to attend college at all. German-Contreras is also a student at Bethesda-Chevy Chase and wants to study finance at Morgan State University.

“Going to school through the pandemic was fine, but it was the aftereffects that [caused my grades to drop],” she said. 

Because of this, she prioritizes her SAT and ACT scores even though colleges have made it optional for students to submit their test scores.

“I still feel pressured to take it because the SAT is considered a big thing and not taking it can be looked down upon,” she said. 

Unlike German-Contreras, Tharindi Wijesekera, 18, is thrilled that test scores were made optional in college applications. 

“A huge amount of stress was lifted off my shoulders,” she said. Wijesekera, who is also a student at Bethesda-Chevy Chase, wants to attend Montgomery County Community College to study architecture. 

While her peers felt help was not easily accessible, Wijesekera said she did receive ample support from English teachers who consistently reached out to help her with essays.

Wijesekera enjoyed attending school during the pandemic because she liked how different and “modern” it was. Though her grades didn’t suffer as much as others in her academic classes, she still feels nowhere near ready for college. 

“I lost so much that could’ve helped,” she said, speaking on how the pandemic robbed them of opportunities to adequately prepare for college or plan a career after high school.

Beyond student performance, the pandemic has led to a drop in ranking for many schools in Maryland.

Of the Montgomery County schools that made it to U.S. News and World Report’s best high schools rankings, five dropped in ranking and three remained in the same spot. A total of 17 schools jumped up the list, however.

Nationally, no schools in Montgomery County made it to the top 100. Walt Whitman High School ranked 104th, and four others placed in the top 500, according to the report.

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