The World is Insane: So What About College? Important Questions You’re Too Distracted To Ask

April 15, 2020 juliasurtshin No comments exist

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a webinar featuring several college admission professionals: Adam Ingersoll, founder of Compass Prep, a leader in the testing industry; Jonathan Burdick, Vice Provost for Enrollment at Cornell University, and college counselors from several selective private schools nationwide. They were all discussing, “Where Do We Go From Here?”

Many of you are wondering…

Will colleges and universities will be operating in Fall 2020? It is unclear as to whether schools will resume normal on-campus operations or continue to offer online/distance learning in the fall term. Faculty and administrators are working hard to develop contingency plans so that students can begin and continue their higher educations. Not only are they planning for online instruction, but many are working to roll out virtual orientations, academic advisement, and student services. It’s likely that no decisions will be made until after May 1 at the earliest. (My guess is that it’s apt to be later, perhaps quite a bit later.) It also may be likely that some schools will open their doors on schedule, others will schedule a delayed opening, and still others may begin the school year online and open their doors second term. At this point, I don’t expect uniformity.

Some colleges have been transparent about their planning for the fall, while others have been less so. Although there is nothing you can do to hurry these decisions along, you CAN think about your own needs, preferences, and priorities. Ask yourself some questions.

  • How has online learning worked for you this spring?
  • How comfortable are you with returning to a college hundreds or thousands of miles away?
  • Would you benefit from taking a term off from school? (More about this later.)
  • How has the pandemic impacted your finances and college affordability?

How will this pandemic affect juniors’ plans to apply to college? Juniors, continue on the path you set for yourself, albeit with some significant changes. Finding “right fit” colleges is still your task at hand.

Consider this COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity. If nothing else, it’s given you time. Without the tyranny of your normal schedule, you have time for self-reflection. Now is your chance to take a time out to reexamine your priorities, your goals and your values. As lame as it might sound, doing so will make your college search more satisfying and effective. Seriously consider keeping a journal – not only about how you spend your days, but also your thoughts, feelings, and dreams. This is the stuff of history. Believe it or not, you’ll be telling your grandkids about this someday.

Many significant changes are being implemented and others are on the horizon. Let’s count the ways:

1. Standardized Testing: This is perhaps the most immediate disruption being felt. Spring 2020 test dates for both the SAT and ACT have been cancelled and the College Board has just cancelled its June test date. It is highly likely that the ACT will cancel its June test as well. While it is not clear when this testing will again become widely available, (panelists suggested that it might not be until schools are reopened), what is clear is that when that happens, both the ACT and the College Board will be inundated with test- takers.

More and more schools are going test-optional and the list is growing daily. Some institutions have gone test-optional on a permanent basis, while others for trial periods, and still others, only for the incoming class of Fall 2021, current juniors.

Decisions about testing should be made strategically. The best person to help you with making this important decision is an experienced counselor who understands both the nuances of the college landscape and your own individual situation.

2. Summer 2020 Plans: Colleges want to know how you spend your time and now is no different. How you spend your time says a lot about who you are and what you value. This summer many of the traditional avenues for pursuing interests, developing skills, earning money, and exploring new pastimes may not be open to you. But all is not lost. Think creatively about what you’d like to accomplish this summer. It doesn’t have to be monumental. It just needs to reflect who you are and what you care about. For some suggestions about putting this into practice, contact me at www.collegeahead.us.

3. Extracurriculars: look different now. You have no track records to boast about, you won’t be able to captain your softball team as you planned, the spring fundraiser for your club isn’t happening, and your lead in the spring musical is kaput. Yes, you got cheated. It totally sucks, but you do have a choice of how your respond. You could throw up your hands and think about how you lost out or you can re-imagine your previous activities and commitments. How can you demonstrate leadership, creativity, perseverance, and teamwork in this vacuum? Take your club online. Develop a service to help others: sew masks, do chores or errands for people at risk, or offer to teach a senior to Zoom. Paint up a storm. Bake for your neighbors. There are a million ways to transform your extracurricular activities. All you need is a fresh perspective. If you can’t muster this on your own, talk with a friend.

4. Demonstrated Interest: is likely to still be of interest to schools that considered it in the past, but it’s apt to look different. There are, at least for the time being, no high school visitations, campus visits, or preview days. One of the webinar panelists astutely suggested thinking of demonstrated interest as “demonstrated understanding”. Use all the tools at your disposal to really understand the institutions you’re considering. Don’t just look at the numbers. Think about what the numbers say about the institution.

5. Early Action and Early Decision Deadlines: Some schools may make minor changes in their EA/ED deadlines to accommodate students’ need to take standardized tests in the fall of their senior year. However, expect most deadlines especially those at the most selective institutions, to remain fairly consistent. Colleges most likely won’t make decisions regarding deadlines until May 1 or later.

6. Admit Rates & Waiting Lists: Media hype would have you believing that admit rates at “good colleges” are downwards of 10%. While this is true at the Ivies and similar schools, this is by no means representative of higher education as a whole. Furthermore, the uncertainty generated by the COVID-19 outbreak means that the models that colleges use to predict yield may be less accurate for this year and the near future. Which leads me to think that there will be more wait list activity since so many people’s plans are in flux. Does this mean that you should hold out for a wait list admit? Heavens no.

Which leads to…

How will colleges handle Gap Year and Deferral requests? All this uncertainty may have more of you considering gap years and other deferrals. Most students thinking about deferrals as a possibility move through the search and application process as if they’d be enrolling right away. You should as well. Once you receive your acceptances and have made a decision about where you’d like to enroll, then contact the school to request the deferral.

Individual institutions will handle deferrals in ways that best meet their own needs and goals. At Boise State University, the process is a straightforward as submitting a couple of forms. Other schools ask students to submit letters outlining their reasons for wanting a deferral and such requests may or may not be granted.

Depending on how many deferral requests an institution has, it might limit the number it grants. Some schools, when granting deferrals, essentially guarantee you a spot in the following year’s class. Others may not. SO, make sure you understand the terms and conditions before your formally request a deferral.

These are complicated times. Things change constantly. If you have questions or concerns about looking at and applying to college, College Ahead is operating and happy to support you during this time. We are using phone, email, and videoconferencing to support our students and their parents during this time of uncertainty. Feel free to reach out to us.

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