Daria Rockholz, April 1, 2020

Proactive Strategies for College Bound Students

The impact of COVID-19 has rapidly changed the typical flow of the college application process, while families grapple with the added emotional, social and economic toll of the coronavirus. Each day brings new information with added challenges for both high school juniors and seniors. Students across the country are now weighing their options and re-thinking college opportunities, with many changing plans and choosing to stay closer to home. The National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) reports that more than 35% of current high school seniors are planning to choose a school closer to home, and nearly 20% of college students are considering transferring or taking one semester off.  Nearly 90% are worried about their family’s ability to pay for their education.

These are indeed challenging times for college-bound students, where state-wide school closings are leaving students in flux, creating significant cause for stress in families now trying to balance college options with fluctuating financial and health concerns. For high school juniors in the midst of the process, and for seniors who are finalizing their decisions, March and April are usually the busiest visitation months, but this pandemic has put a startling halt to campus tours and standardized testing, while students remain stuck in college-limbo during this time of great uncertainty.

College admissions, however, has not come to a screeching halt. The application process will continue, and college life will go on, but the process will be markedly different. Families will need to dig deeper and wider to understand the unique features and culture of each campus, while college admission counselors are ramping up digital resources and creative social media opportunities to attract and engage prospective students. The process has become virtually virtual: we are finally meeting this generation where they are.  Social media rules.

What’s changed:

Standardized Testing: SAT and ACT spring testing has been cancelled. ACT has rescheduled its April national test date to June, with opportunities to retest in specific test sections, rather than retaking the entire exam. College Board has cancelled the March and May SAT tests, and at this point June 13th is still a go.  Expanded/alternate summer testing opportunities are under consideration.  A revised, 45-minute AP exam will be administered online and in the comfort of home, with free tutorial online classes provided by College Board.

Payment Deadlines and Waitlists: For seniors:  some colleges have extended the traditional May 1 payments deadline to June 1, although some are still holding firm to May 1. This will extend waitlists indefinitely.

College Testing Requirements: An increased number of colleges have adopted test-optional policies, some for this year’s applicants only. Several college will offer creative testing options (e.g., only submit AP exams or subject tests).

College Visits: All campus tours will be virtual. In its place, college staff will be readily available to speak, email and video conference with prospective students and parents.

High School Grading: Schools will continue to provide full grades, while others have chosen a Pass/Fail system for the remainder of the school year

What (we think) will happen

Deadlines will shift, testing requirements will ease, application help resources will increase.

Connecting virtually will be the new norm. College counselors will be more accessible and will provide virtual campus tours and events in place of Open Houses, Admitted Student Days, Fly-Ins, etc.  Email, text, social media, phone calls, zoom meetings will be the primary mode of college-to-student communication. We are finally meeting students where they are. Technology rules.

Admissions: the process will be flexible, qualitative student data will become paramount. Interviewing and video-based meetings and conversations with members of the admission team may take on a more critical position.

The process will become flexible and holistic. Grades and test scores will be assessed differently and more objectively.

If colleges do not require standardized testing, and if students are graded on a pass/fail basis, then activities, essays and letters will become critical factors in the admission process.

Financial Aid: Due to changes in families’ financial circumstances, we may see more flexibility with financial aid packages.  Too early to predict.

Student/family’s final choice college decisions will be based largely on social media, webinar presentations, websites, and conversations with coaches and counselors.

What this means for high school juniors and what to do now

Now is not the time to sit back and wait for colleges to contact you. Now is the time to be proactive. Demonstrate interest by initiating communication with college reps, coaches, department heads. Attend virtual events, read and respond to emails.  Stretch yourself even more while practicing social distancing – turn this corona challenge into an opportunity to enhance your college candidacy.

Take action –
·             Study for SATs and ACTs (many free and private programs online)
·             Contact current teacher for letters
·             Explore disability services and help resources on campuses
·             Complete your Naviance site
·             Pull together a list of all your activities and start to create a resume.
·             Find out if your high school college counselor is available. Call or chat online to discuss specific courses and colleges. Just because students can’t meet face to face doesn’t mean they should postpone the college search.

Take virtual college tours (provide links)
(this is an example of what most colleges are providing to attract potential students)

In the absence of standardized testing and full-year grades, colleges will look for unique and interesting aspects of each student. Fill this time learning a new skill or hobby:
·             Take a career survey
·             Take an online course
·             Learn a new language
·             Make a video or a move
·             Explore Gap year programs

Be proactive, take action, stay motivated! Schedule in a few hours each week to dedicate to the college application process.  In this challenging era of social distancing, high school students are encouraged to connect virtually to seek out college preparation strategies, admission and financial aid guidance. Read your emails, watch the news, stay positive, and wash your hands!