Amid a raging pandemic killing thousands by the day, happiness and hope have been hard to find. But last week, hundreds of high school students experienced a rare taste of normalcy: being accepted into their first choice college.

“I was so surprised I got into Emory,” Tallulah Story (25C), a QuestBridge Scholar from Maui, Hawaii, said. “I didn’t even know that I wanted to go to college because so many financial barriers were in the way, even before COVID happened. So when I was accepted into QuestBridge I thought, ‘Oh, this is possible for me.’”

During an unprecedented application season, many students didn’t tour Emory’s campus. Instead, students relied on virtual information sessions, YouTube vlogs and interactions with current students to learn about the University. 

“I made sure to go to as many information sessions as I could to make sure I wanted to apply Early Decision,” said Erin Devine (25C) of Cincinnati, Ohio. 

Even amidst the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic, students had no qualms indicating Emory as their first choice college. For Julie Zhou (23Ox), who moved from her hometown of Hangzhou, China to complete high school in Toronto, Canada, her confidence in the Emory experience never wavered.

“The biggest thing I was looking for is a small community with small class sizes that is really inclusive and diverse,” Zhou said when listing the qualities which attracted her to Oxford. “I was definitely going to choose Early Decision I because it’s the biggest chance for me to get into my dream university.”

Other students felt empowered by the diversity of Emory’s community and the greater Atlanta area. For Nolan Baynes II (25C), a West Orange, New Jersey native, the University’s support of racial minority groups was a defining factor.

“One of the admission representatives would come to visit and he would always say ‘Black Lives Matter’ at Emory,” he explained. “That alone helped a lot [in my decision].”

Students admitted that Emory’s test-optional policy impacted their application processes. Widespread testing cancellations was one of the many obstacles brought on by the pandemic, and many students were denied the opportunity to improve upon past scores or to take tests at all.

“There was only one testing site on the island and it was impossible to get a seat,” Story recalled. “You can’t create this barrier for kids out here. Just trying to apply during this time was harder.”

Athletic recruits like volleyball player Deborah Hong (25C) of Los Angeles had the benefit of receiving more “transparency” from Emory’s admissions team. Although the possibility of her first collegiate season being canceled weighed on her mind, Hong said she tries not to dwell on events that might be out of her control.

“It’s definitely a huge possibility that Emory would cancel the seasons, especially knowing that a few colleges have already done so,” Hong admitted. “Obviously it wouldn’t be the ideal situation and it would be unfortunate, but if it were to happen it would be for the best. Emory would be doing everything they can to keep their students safe.”

Emory announced earlier this year that they were hoping to invite all students back to campus next fall, an opportunity that many admitted students look forward to.

“The Facebook group and all the Instagram stuff is popping off really quickly, so I hope I get to meet those people coming round fall semester,” Baynes added.