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Students attend virutal class and study inside the University of Georgia's Main Library on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Taylor Gerlach; @taylormckenzie_photo)

Seniors at the University of Georgia are gearing up to apply for graduate school programs as their final year on campus draws to a close. While this semester isn’t what they thought it would look like, neither is the process of applying to postgraduate programs. 

From law school and master’s degree programs to physicians assistant school, UGA students are maneuvering their way through COVID-19’s hurdles to continue their academic careers. With no certainty about fall 2021, applying to upper-level schools and programs has been more uncertain than ever. 

COVID-19 changes

UGA Graduate School Dean Ron Walcott said the number of fall 2020 applications increased by 9%.

Walcott said changes were made to applications for COVID-19 based on the specific program’s requirements. 

For example, international students were permitted to submit final transcripts after registration, and some programs extended application deadlines, Walcott said. The popular language learning app Duolingo was added as an English proficiency test for international students as well, Walcott said. 

Some graduate programs and schools have announced their plans for the return of students for fall 2021 while still keeping precautions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Some of the medical schools senior biology major Shea Fincher applied to will require faculty, staff, students and visitors to wear face coverings while inside campus facilities and buildings along with required social distancing inside each classroom. 

Kassie Hogan, a senior majoring in biology and psychology, explained some of the major differences in applications this year as opposed to other years. 

“Normally schools require GRE scores, but this year none are,” Hogan said. As for the lengthy interview process, Hogan said interviews will also likely be conducted over Zoom. 

Some schools are waiving the Graduate Record Examination for summer and fall 2021 and or spring 2021 because of COVID-19 complications. Some of these schools include Auburn University, The University of Alabama and Florida State University, according to Study.com

Jenna Swaboiwicz, a senior communication sciences and disorders major, also said the absence of a GRE requirement was the biggest change this year due to COVID-19. However, Swabowicz opted to take the GRE at home, a new option in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Having to take it at home with online proctoring software was completely new to me, and after the fact, having to find out which schools were still requiring it, which would consider it but not make it mandatory and which wouldn't even look at it presented a new boundary,” Swaboiwicz said. 

Setbacks through screens

Swabowicz also said many schools held modified Zoom information sessions to promote their graduate programs. “COVID aside, I think this was a really great way to get students across the country to learn about each program,” Swabowicz said. 

Fincher said that all of her interviews for medical school will be conducted online as opposed to normally traveling to schools for interviews. 

“Virtually attending interviews instead of traveling to schools helps my budget, but I believe virtual interviews can be a disadvantage in getting to know a person like you can during a normal interview process,” Fincher said. 

Similarly, Swabowicz said the process for choosing schools to apply to was very difficult without any in-person component of touring. 

“Deciding which schools to apply to without in-person information sessions and campus tours was definitely daunting,” Swabowicz said. 

Hogan said that the optional GRE test is the only lenient part of the application process this year as opposed to previous years.

“I think it has been harder [to complete the application during COVID-19] because usually you can go to advisors or career centers and ask questions and even talk to your programs of interest,” Hogan said. 

Fincher said the medical school application was more difficult this year because of opportunities missed due to quarantine and COVID-19 precautionary measures. 

“I believe this application was harder amid the COVID-19 changes because different research and volunteering opportunities of mine were canceled or postponed over the spring until further notice,” Fincher said. 

This forced Fincher to find new non-contact volunteer opportunities to still have a competitive application for medical school. 

“Overall, I believe the application process has not changed in rigor, but instead it has adapted through the COVID-19 pandemic to better understand applicants during this stressful time,” Fincher said. 

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