Despite pandemic, 87 percent of Milford grads continue education

MILFORD — The pandemic was not all negative for students in the college application process, according to Milford’s high school guidance counselors.

In Milford, despite the class of 2021 graduating in a pandemic year and having to spend the final 18 months in uncertainty, a total of 1,496 acceptance letters were issued to MPS graduates.

“The pandemic is still impacting the college application process,” Jennifer Dunnuck, director of school counseling at Jonathan Law High School, said. “Students are still being provided the option for SATs being optional for many schools, and quite frankly, that might have long-standing effects.”

Schools are starting to consider and looking at freshman classes of students who are coming in who were SAT optional, and ordinarily they were not, and looking at their productivity and success as freshmen, Dunnuck said, adding that might be changing the face of how colleges are utilizing the SAT feature for college acceptances.

“I’m super proud of them,” Dunnuck said of the graduates. “They had a tough end to their high school, and they stepped up in areas I think they needed to and I think it shows in a lot of their acceptances, and I’m really hoping the things they’ve learned in the pandemic serves them well in the future.”

According to MPS statistics, about 87 percent of the graduates entered a wide variety of 4-year, 2-year, career training or military programs this fall. Some 57 percent of students who enrolled in post-secondary educational programs decided to remain in the state. Others began their college experiences in different parts of the country and the world including, California, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania, with four students deciding to study abroad in Greece, Scotland and Canada. One MPS graduate was admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

“Student choices are made based on their specific fields of interest, and where that program is offered,” Kathy Bonetti, MPS communication director, said. “For some technical or career training program is exactly what they are looking for. As for going abroad, some students may be looking for a taste of absorbing the culture and experience of a place other than the U.S. Some may be thinking of working down the road internationally.”

A total of 117 MPS graduates were accepted into institutions considered to have challenging entrance requirements, with 48 ultimately enrolling in universities including Brown University, Dartmouth College, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Yale University, Boston University, New York University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

“To get into that upper echelon or super-selective schools, students have to start making that plan of classes and rigor of classes since freshman year,” Jakob Rosengrant, director of school counseling at Joseph A. Foran High School, said. “Some of those schools have specific requirements, and if you’re only researching that by your junior year, then maybe it's too late to get into those requisite classes to get into those programs.”

Dunnuck said the pandemic is still affecting how students choose their schools because many schools are doing virtual tours, which impacts the student's choices.

“As more schools open up and more families willing to go and visit, we are seeing an increased amount of visits which is great. Because it is a big deal for the student to put their foot on the campus and get a good feel of the campus and see if it is a good match for them,” she said.

Rosengrant said 1,496 acceptance letters are about the same number of acceptance letters MPS receive every year, however, over the past couple of years, the average number of applications per senior has been trending up.

“The advent of Common App has made it easier for kids," he said. "But also now that schools are going test-optional and students don’t have to submit their ACT or SAT scores, that kind of empowers them and emboldens them to apply to schools they would feel intimated to apply to in previous years,” he said.

Common App is a non-profit membership organization representing nearly 900 diverse institutions of higher education. They connect applicants and those who support them to a wide array of public and private colleges and universities across all 50 U.S. states, and 20 countries. Each year more than one million students apply to college, research financial aid and scholarships, and connect to college counseling resources through Common App.

The waiving of application fees is another reason why there has been an increase in the number of applications being sent by seniors.

“That’s another piece that students will look to because on average they're looking at $70 to $90 per application, and then when you go talk to a rep, and they give them a fee waiver, it makes it a lot easier for a senior to apply,” Rosengrant said.

Both school counselors said because the 2021 class had to go through a pandemic during their junior and senior years, it made them more independent and got them ready for college and post-secondary programs. However, they are grateful they can meet with students again face-to-face because it makes the process of working with students easier.

“What I have found is increased independence in seniors over the past year to this year, particularly last year, with us being out during their junior year, and not having the ability to have as much one-on-one consistent contact with them,” Dannuck said. “Everyone had different experiences, but what I found with my student is they found some independence that wasn’t there before. They really stepped up and did the process themselves, and that was very encouraging.”

Rosengrant said there was some independence last year out of necessity, but he’s seeing this year's senior class, who did not have access to school counselors as much as previous classes because of the pandemic, are less prepared to take that independence.

“That’s why it is important for us to have the students in the building and have one-on-one conversations with them,” he said. “There are many students who are ready and prepared to apply early, others are further behind in the process, and that’s ok. It’s about meeting with that student and getting them to their ultimate goal, whether that’s early action or early decision.”