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    Ultimate Guide to COVID-19 and College Admissions

    8 Minutes Read


    First things first: We hope you and your family are healthy and safe!

    Second, don’t panic. We’re dealing with highly uncertain times. Nobody knows how this pandemic will evolve or when it will end, so colleges and organizations that deal with college admissions are continually updating policies and timelines. Most are trying to be as flexible as possible and exercise understanding in the face of challenging circumstances.

    That said, here are some ways you can expect COVID-19 to affect college admissions and advice for planning ahead. We will continue to keep you apprised of updates and news as they pertain to the college process, so be sure to check back frequently to stay informed. 

    Standardized Tests

    SAT and SAT Subject Tests

    The College Board has now canceled the May and June SAT and SAT Subject Test administrations. Students who were registered for testing during this period will receive refunds, as will those who did not receive their scores from an earlier test because of “irregularities.” The test will now be offered every month in the fall and in the event schools do not reopen in the fall they are preparing to release an “E-SAT” that can potentially be taken at home.



    The ACT’s April 4 test date has been rescheduled for June 13 (watch closely for updates however). Students may also reschedule their April 4 test for another future test date for free. 

    ACT added test dates on June 20 and July 25, pending local public health guidelines. The newly added dates aren’t yet listed in ACT’s registration portal, but we expect they will appear in the coming days after being discussed here.

    Not to be out done, ACT will launch an online, at-home exam for U.S. students by late fall or early winter 2020. This will be provided in addition to in-person testing. It’s not yet clear whether or when remote proctoring for at-home testing will be available for international students or students who normally test through state and school district testing dates. 

    For a detailed article on the SAT and ACT from the New York Times:

    SAT and ACT Tests Offered at Home if Coronavirus Continues


    AP Exams

    Advanced Placement (AP) exams will now be taken at home. These tests will contain only free-response questions (no multiple choice), usually within a 45-minute time period. Each test will be administered at the same time worldwide and will be open-notes. According to the College Board, students will not earn points for “content that can be found in textbooks or online.” The 1-5 point system will remain in place. 


    IB Exams

    International Baccalaureate (IB) examinations will no longer be held through May, and the IB will be assessing coursework, uploaded by your school and teachers, to award grades, certificates, and diplomas. Alternatively, you may take the exam on the November administration date, which has not been canceled as of yet.


    Colleges Changing Testing Requirements 

    In light of these changes and other challenges, many colleges have changed their standardized testing policies. In addition to the entire University of California system, Pomona College and Boston University will be test-optional for one year, while Tufts University will continue a test-optional policy for three years. Vassar College and Case Western Reserve University have also adopted the policy and plan to reevaluate it at a later date. 


    Test Preparation

    Your testing preparation and timelines may change, but now is probably still an important time for you to prepare for your standardized tests. You can access free materials through organizations like Khan Academy and the ACT itself. There are also free review lessons on the AP Youtube channel 

    Additional test preparation options are abundant, but our tutoring partners at Arborbridge are second to none.  Contact us if you would like to discuss our diagnostic testing options and how we work with you to create a customized, data driven preparation plan and schedule



    Nearly all high schools have moved their courses online, which presents challenges for everyone, including having to adapt to a different format and accessibility issues for some students. Many schools have changed their grading policies to pass/fail or eliminated grading completely.


    College Policies

    How will this affect college admissions? Colleges understand that high school students didn’t choose this. You can expect them to regard this semester (and any future ones that are impacted by coronavirus) differently from others and be more flexible in how they evaluate your transcript. The University of California system has already established a policy in which the usual letter-grade requirement will be suspended for classes taking place during the winter, spring, and summer of 2020. 

    The University of Chicago has also released a statement, expressing the understanding that “school transcripts will look different for many students this year, and we will work with that!” Any changes in the way students are graded will be taken into consideration within admissions offices across the country.


    Your Approach

    This, of course, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be working hard in your courses to the best of your abilities. Your efforts in your courses affect aspects of your admissions candidacy in ways aside from grades, including your relationships with teachers who will write your recommendations, your preparedness for the next level in a given subject, and your overall readiness for college. 

    Moreover, this is honestly a major opportunity to follow your curiosity and passions. Colleges seek out students who truly enjoy learning, and your ability to focus on the content of what you’re learning rather than the letter grade will help you stand out.

    If you do have issues that affect your coursework, such as an inability to access certain technology or a learning disability that’s exacerbated by the digital teaching format, be sure to address it with your teachers and guidance counselor. Even if you don’t encounter difficulties, you should continue to communicate with them regularly to maintain a good relationship by asking questions and participating in class discussions.

    To keep your grades up here is some of the best advice we have seen to successfully navigate online learning from a student who has done it for the last 4 years! 

    College Visits

    It’s impossible to visit colleges during the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find out as much as possible about a school. You should be researching each college through a guidebook (we like the Fiske Guide to Colleges), digging deeply into the website, and asking questions on student and prospective student forums.

     Reading student-written admissions blog posts, reaching out to current students and alumni (ask your guidance counselor if they can facilitate connections) and reading the campus newspaper, is another way to learn more about the college.

    Many colleges are offering virtual tours and open houses. You can usually find information on how to register and attend via their admissions websites. You can search colleges that are having virtual events here National Association for College Admission Counseling

    You can also use one of the following resources:

    Campus Reel - to view videos of students taking you behind the scenes at almost any college

    Campus Sherpa - to have a Skype meeting with a current student

    YouVisit - For virtual tours and even Virtual Reality

    You should also be finding ways to express interest in a college without going on physical tours. There are many ways of doing this, including:

    • Reaching out to admissions officers for your region with thoughtful questions
    • Participating in virtual interviews
    • Following colleges on social media
    • Signing up for alerts and e-mails
    • Opening and clicking through emails (colleges look at this data)
    • Going on virtual campus visits

    Extracurriculars and Summer Planning

    In addition to upending your courses, the COVID-19 pandemic has also impacted your extracurricular activities. It’s impossible to keep playing team sports or attending your regular club meetings in person. Additionally, many national competitions and events have been cancelled. However, the silver lining is that this provides you with ample opportunity to demonstrate creativity and independence which colleges will love. 

    Consider which activities you always did online or can transition to a virtual format (in addition to club meetings!). Your school literary magazine, for example, can still put out digital issues. Could your school orchestra play a virtual concert like this? 

    Remember that colleges always value activities you can pursue independently, and this summer is an opportunity like no other. As of now, some summer programs are still scheduled, but it’s unlikely that they will actually take place. In place of this, multitudes of high quality summer enrichment opportunities have gone virtual. If you were planning on taking a college course to explore and develop an interest you can still do so through platforms like EdX or Coursera. You can curate a list of TED Talks (better yet, you can prepare and record your own TED style speech) or take a Master Class

    The chance to learn from some of the best teachers in the world has never been greater. Follow your inspiration to write a blog, design an experiment, make a business plan or anything you can dream. To get more experience, create a Linkedin profile to seek out a virtual internship. 

    What is most important is that you think about the kind of person you want to be and get creative. Read about the 16 characteristics colleges care about most, and then think of ways (doesn’t have to be fancy) to develop them further. 

    How can I be of service and contribute during this time is the question we should all be asking ourselves? #TogetherAtHome 

    Some students may be facing additional challenges in light of the pandemic. Colleges will understand this; in fact, given that no one has ever experienced anything like this before, admissions committees will be forced to reevaluate how they review all aspects of your application, taking a more holistic, character-based approach, with an emphasis on essays. 

    If, for example, you have home obligations that stand in the way of participating in more quantifiable activities, such as babysitting (or homeschooling!) a younger sibling, you won’t be penalized. It’s a good idea to explain this in the additional information portion of your application. 

    Contact Us if you want to understand the full range of opportunities that exist formally and how to put together a plan for DIY experiences that will build the kind of authentic resume that will stand out. 


    Gap Years

    Given the financial toll COVID-19 has taken on many families, not to mention the psychological stress nearly everyone is feeling, you may want to consider taking a gap year (we prefer the term discovery year) Seventeen percent of respondents to a recent national survey, who were previously planning on enrolling full-time at a four-year college next year, have changed their minds. And of those, 35% are expecting to take a gap year.

     It’s also still unclear whether colleges will resume on-campus, in-person instruction in the fall semester, meaning you may not have the college experience you were expecting if you do decide to start at the end of 2020. 

    A gap year can be advantageous to many young adults. Whether you participate in a language immersion program from home (travel overseas is probably not possible this summer), start a side hustle, take non-matriculated courses or volunteer, it provides an opportunity for personal and intellectual growth. Just make sure you spend it wisely—think of it as an opportunity to prepare yourself for college, not a break from academic life.


    Managing Stress

    Coronavirus is impacting all of our mental health collectively, and it’s no doubt contributing to what is already a stressful time for college-bound high school students. While you’re cooped up in your house with your parents and siblings, it’s important to engage in stress-reduction activities.

    Start by incorporating therapeutic activities like mindfulness meditation (try apps like Headspace and Calm), regular exercise, and journaling into your daily schedule. If done regularly, they can have an enormous impact on your overall mindset and well-being (you can even count activities like regular mindfulness or yoga practice as extracurriculars if they’re an important part of your daily life). 

    You should also make every effort to keep in contact with your friends and peers. FaceTime or call your friends regularly to maintain social connections and prevent yourself from feeling too lonely. If you’re struggling, use your guidance counselor and teachers as a resource, too. Not only can they provide personal and academic support, but they can also offer guidance through the college process.

    And, of course, don’t be afraid to lean on your family. You’re with them 24/7 now, and that might be driving you a little crazy, but remember that they’re no doubt looking for ways to help you, whether it’s reading the first draft of an essay or simply lending a supportive ear.

    Sometimes you just need to laugh! Watch the Family Lockdown Boogie. Try not to go to far down the rabbit hole of Youtube, but if you haven’t already seen it, watch the hilarious videos offering Some Good News from John Krasinski

    The coronavirus pandemic will, of course, impact the college admissions process in substantial ways. It remains to be seen how, exactly, colleges will account for the enormous disruptions that have and will continue to occur, but you can rest assured that you will not be penalized for the impact this has made on your academic, extracurricular, and personal life. Your college process is not going to be like that of your predecessors, but it can be rewarding and successful nonetheless.

    Want to maximize your chances of admissions to top choice colleges? We can help you navigate the process with as little stress as possible. 

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