College: A Changing Scene

College: A Changing Scene

College life will be drastically different this year and admissions personnel are being trained to review student applications without test scores.

Dr. Mark Fisher
Dr. Mark Fisher

Once upon a time, an Ivy League president was offered the following scenario: If a donor to your university offered you a bundle of money to do one of the following projects, which one would you choose? Your options are: 1. Build onto the library with even more cubicles for private study 2. Hire more faculty or 3. Build more dormitory space with study rooms, not necessarily increasing the student population. You the reader, what would be your choice?

This is a question that I sometimes pose to my high school clients. The president, in our scenario, chose the third option which is the dormitory. Why? To this leader of a university, he felt that students learning from each other on campus was extremely important. After all, some students could tutor others, there are various opinions discussed, students come from different backgrounds, religions, geographic areas and talents, among other factors. In fact, among the Jewish population, there are certainly different backgrounds that students bring to college.

Yet how many college-bound students have these thoughts in their minds when choosing colleges to insert on their application lists?

The college world is turning upside down this year. Will this continue in the future? No one seems to know, with masks, social distancing, single occupancy dorm rooms, not sitting close to another student in the cafeteria, virtual engagement in a student council meeting, or having a class discussion online from your living room or bedroom at home. Never mind the weekend football game, for they may not be playing anyway. These are not your parents’ college years. What about the fraternity and sorority parties? Sorry, they are not scheduled. But I, the student, am attending college. The college I dreamed of as an upper classman in high school. Do not forget to get tested. This does not mean your history test, it means your COVID-19 test, at regular intervals in some colleges.

While you are wondering what college will look like, the colleges are trying to figure out how to read your application without test scores. About 1,460 have chosen to be test optional. Even the elite named colleges have joined the optional choice. Every day, FairTest seems to add another to the optional list. Think of it this way: If a college does not join the optional schools but their competitors already became a test optional college, they could lose applicants.

Colleges are losing millions of dollars because of COVID-19. Students who opt for online courses from home do not need to pay room and board. That adds up in the treasury. Yes, some colleges will close forever, but those seem to have an enrollment of less than 1,000 students or even fewer in the first place. Some exceedingly small colleges will try to merge with other schools, which has already happened. Another question is whether some test optional colleges are test blind.

The latter means that the college does not look at any test scores even if the scores are fantastic.

Even though the test stress appears to lessen, do not think that way; you should take either the ACT or SAT. If your score is within or better than the 50 percent range of scores for a college, you may want to submit it. Of course, your grades need to be appropriate for the college. If your scores are not within the usual range, then you may want to go test optional. Read the college website carefully. Will that college still need ACT or SAT scores for certain scholarships, especially for merit money that usually does not depend on financial need? If they are test optional, perhaps a specific merit scholarship is endowed, and the scores are a prerequisite.

Furthermore, most colleges are trying to figure out how to make admissions decisions without scores. Certain items on your transcript become even more important than usual. This not only means grades, but the rigor of your courses gains even more prominence. Perhaps your grades are pass or fail rather than letter grades, or your wonderful extracurricular activities have disappeared, and your essay gains more importance. Some colleges are looking more at character. What is that all about? Will your references, both teachers and counselors, be able to say something about your character?

From the college side, there is some hope. As one professor said to me, the cost of college today is outrageous. The most elite colleges could lose some money and still be in a safe situation. A few elite schools such as Williams College, Princeton and John Hopkins universities are giving around a 10 percent discount. Some may offer more scholarships or discounts, and some are freezing their tuition for four years. The competition is there and colleges hope to meet their enrollment goals.

For students, demonstrated interest becomes more important. That does not mean questions to the admissions personnel daily. But it does mean that students need to carefully read the college website, take a virtual tour when visits are not allowed, and talk to present students, which can be arranged. Then, ask pertinent questions to admissions. Remember, there are so many wonderful colleges. Even if you have never heard of the college, it could be the best for you.

Dr. Mark L. Fisher is a college and career consultant at Fisher Educational Consultants, www.fishereducationalconsultants, and a consultant for the College Planning Institute, www.Goto

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