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There have been so many challenges and disruptions to our everyday lives since the COVID pandemic started its deadly march across the world – in-home quarantine, required social distancing, no visits with friends or distant family, no travel. And even a shortage of toilet paper. This article addresses the special circumstances for students who are engaged in their high school academics and extracurricular activities, college-bound juniors and seniors in particular. For this group of young people, it’s important to remain optimistic that the crisis will, in fact, bring about a sea change in the world of college admissions, leading to changes for the better in a system that for many with limited resources, simply doesn’t work.
Admission officers review applicants’ academic records with a focused eye on both 11th-grade results and coursework rigor. This is also the time for many students to start their standardized testing and build up a healthy resume of extracurricular activities. But in the spring of 2020, most schools closed, and students were suddenly required to complete their spring semester online, within a system that was unplanned and with teachers unprepared to switch over to an online format. Both parties struggled and for many students, this important academic year was suddenly thrown into chaos. Testing dates were canceled, AP tests were abbreviated and went online, and many schools chose to switch from traditional grading to Pass/Fail results, thus creating havoc with a student’s transcript and grade point average. Sports were canceled, jobs were lost, community service options fell apart, summer programs were canceled, making many college-bound students deeply worried that their dreams of gaining entry to their top colleges/universities might become a distant memory.
It is, however, important to note that colleges were going through the same crises as everyone else. They faced losing all their in-person visitors as well as the students they met as admission officers traveled to visit schools, and they confronted a potential drop in enrollment from both in- and out-of-state students, and international students. This pandemic has demanded that colleges and universities take a completely different direction for the students applying for fall 2021 admission. To alleviate the anxiety of so many, a group of over 300 institutions issued a reassuring statement, letting students know that the negative impact of COVID would not, in any way, be held against them in the admission process. Colleges will now need to do things differently. For this year’s seniors, it is likely that there will be a heavier focus on fall junior grades, rather than spring junior grades, and trends up to that time will have a second look. It is also possible that colleges are now investing in new ways of evaluating students – examples might include more informational video interviews, or questions to be answered online or in a short video. Ask your colleges for new options.
It has long been known that grades and rigor of courses are the best predictor of a student’s college readiness and subsequent success in college. This means that it is imperative for fall 2021 applicants to work hard in the new world of high school and/or virtual learning. It’s likely some test scores may be missing, but if you can safely take standardized tests, do so. Many test-optional colleges are not test-blind; you can find a current list at fairtest.org.
Most students will find that their normal extracurricular activities have ground to a halt. Try your best to select some options you can explore at home – practice your singing, musical skills, art; create interesting videos; take new courses; interview experts in your fields of interest; explore nature in your backyard; build robots or computers; and create face masks and/or food parcels for donation to a local charity. Find ways of shining while maintaining good self-care, and just do the best you can without putting undue expectations on yourself.
Colleges like to connect with prospective students, but visits both on campus and at your high school are off the table this fall. However, there are still so many ways to connect – complete virtual tours, attend virtual information sessions and open houses, connect with your admission representative by email and ask your many questions. This fall, with many classes being completed online, it may be harder than ever to connect with your counselor and teachers for recommendations. Make the effort at the start of your fall semester to do just that – let them get to know you. The fall 2021 Common Application and Coalition app are offering a new COVID-19 question to give applicants the chance to share their personal experiences with the pandemic; counselors will also have a new form to share more about the impact on their school. So, don’t worry about the things you can’t control; work hard, make the best of the situation and connect, connect, connect – with your colleges, your advisors and your teachers. You will be at the forefront of change and that’s a pretty exciting place to be.