MIDDLESEX COUNTY, NJ - Sixteen-year-old Erin Tan of North Brunswick, who will be a senior at the Middlesex County Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies in Edison in the fall, likes the changes in admission policies being made by colleges and universities because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her essay on the topic was one of nine high school winners out of more than 6,000 submissions in The New York Times’ seventh annual Student Editorial Contest.
The editorials, with a 450-word limit, were screened by 30 judges.
Titled “The Class of 2021 Could Change College Admissions Forever,” Erin’s essay noted that pressure on high school juniors had been somewhat relieved by restrictions on testing due to the pandemic lockdown.
“Many universities across the nation have announced modifications to their application requirements, specifically for standardized testing,” she wrote. “Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, will not consider SAT subject tests. Dozens of other colleges and universities have dropped the SAT and ACT altogether.
“If this precedent catches on, the landscape of college admissions, as well as the overall high school experience, will change drastically.”
“I think that testing just doesn’t differentiate you from the next person as much as your essay and your resume,” she said.
“Placing less emphasis on standardized testing will remove an added stressor that students face during high school,” she wrote. “Students have accustomed themselves to the reality that if they are poor test takers, they will automatically disqualify themselves from admission at most top-tier colleges.
“Additionally, the high costs of taking and preparing for these tests have made standardized testing a catalyst for socioeconomic privilege.”
She thinks that looking at the student’s overall experience – rather than at test scores — will result in a more well-rounded and diverse student body.
"I was impressed that Erin's essay focused on the holistic approach that higher education will now be pivoting to as they change the way they choose new members of their learning communities, selecting students who are not defined solely by a number, but admitting those who demonstrate the ability to collaborate, the importance of community and who exhibit good character,” said Edison Academy principal John Jeffries. “Congratulations to Erin on this tremendous recognition."
“Erin has a natural gift for writing, and she has worked hard to develop that gift,” said her English teacher, Amy Burke. “It's a privilege to teach such a talented young woman, and I am proud of her for pursuing this opportunity.”
Erin’s resume certainly would demand a second look by admissions committees. An electrical and computer engineering career major, she plans to apply to 10 or 11 colleges with an eye toward studying economics – perhaps an unexpected path considering her high school studies.
“I just think it’s really necessary to have a foundation in engineering and computer science today,” she said. “I think it would be a good foundation no matter what I study.”
Erin is in the Red Cross Club, the Student Government Club and the Yearbook Club at the Edison Academy. Her older sister, Abby, an Edison Academy grad, is studying business data science at the University of California, Berkeley.
The Middlesex County Vocational and Technical School District, the first full-time county vocational school district in the nation, has campuses in East Brunswick, Edison, Perth Amboy, Piscataway and Woodbridge, offering 34 career majors. The Perth Amboy Campus, the Edison Academy and the Woodbridge Academy have been named National Blue Ribbon Schools. The Edison Academy also was singled out as one of the nation’s best public high schools – and the best in New Jersey -- by U.S. News & World Report.