The world turned upside down for high school students since the spring of this year. School doors were closed. Zoom became your classroom. A desktop or laptop computer was your gateway to classes. SAT/ACT test dates disappeared.
You waited for new test dates after some of you prepared for those important admissions test results. Then hundreds of colleges decided to go test-optional. That includes even the Ivy League universities.
Whoever heard of AP exams on the computer and not even for a full hour?
Athletics were gone while most extra-curricular activities were not what they were at one time. Then the ACT group canceled their long-awaited fall section retesting program, where you did not have to take the entire ACT a second or more times, just one to three sections where you wanted to improve.
You heard the term COVID-19 a thousand times. You may have planned visits to college campuses and that was exciting, only to find that colleges could no longer accept you on campus. Even if you are a graduating senior, it is possible that you never stepped on the campus you will be attending. Of course, all depends on whether the college physically opens its campus or puts the classes online for the time being, or creates a hybrid of those two options.
It should be no surprise that you still must prepare for college. One might think that the pressure would be less with colleges saying that they are test-optional. Be careful, for some of the schools may desire test scores for certain merit scholarships.
When colleges go test-optional, they also remind you that SAT/ACT scores were only one item they reviewed because they look at applicants holistically. Do not panic, just continually pay attention to the changes.
What does all this mean for future applicants to colleges? If your scores on admissions tests are in the range required by the colleges to which you want to apply, you may not be interested in the test-optional opportunity. Either way, here are factors that you need to be mindful of and concentrate on for the future.
If you take the test-optional possibility, these factors become even more prominent when the college reviews your application.
1. Course grades: Not only the letter or numerical grade but the rigor of your curriculum. Have you been challenged within the scope of your capabilities? If you have not studied as much as you should have on your course work in the past, you better start now. Colleges are looking at your courses and grades with even more importance.
2. Extracurricular activities: Involvement shows commitment and passion. This does not mean one day a year charity work. It means consistency. Also, it does not mean 15 activities with which you think the college will be impressed.
Involvement in a few major activities that mean something to you is crucial.
3. Essay: Start working on it. If you are using the Common Application, for example, you have a choice of one essay for all Common App schools to which you will apply. The University of Georgia has joined this group recently, which includes Georgia State University and Georgia Tech. The essay takes work. This writer is part of a college planning group that breaks the essay into 10 writing steps. The essay is not something that one writes the night before the deadline.
4. Supplemental essay: Many Common App colleges, in addition to the one essay, are allowed an extra essay, which boils down to: Why are you interested in our college? You respond, the college is in a big city. The college is outstanding. A friend attends your college. Obviously, these are extremely poor responses. You need to study the college, study yourself and see how the institution meets your needs. That is how the college really learns about you.
5. Leadership in activities both in your high school and/or in the community. That includes youth groups in synagogues or community-wide groups.
6. Counselor recommendations that show who you are as a person. You do not want your counselor to just repeat your activities, which the college already knows from your application. COVID-19 has not helped the situation because you have not been meeting with your counselor in school. Ask yourself, how will your counselor really get to know you?
7. Teacher recommendations: Teachers know students because they usually meet or see them via Zoom each school day. If school resumes in a building, teachers will know you even better. The teacher does not need to just report your grade on a recommendation. Do you participate? Are you a thinker? Do you contribute constructively to the class? Do you assist your fellow classmates who may need help in understanding the subject? Where have you exhibited intellectual curiosity?
Have you read beyond your assignments in a subject? Was there a possibility of research with a teacher?
8. Talents: If you have special skills, do not hide them. Colleges need students with those talents.
9. Show interest in college: You took a virtual tour now that visits are not possible? Read a professor’s research? Found the curriculum remarkably interesting because what you read connected with your interests? Have you talked with an admissions counselor at the college, asking relevant questions? That does not mean asking: How many fraternities or sororities are on campus? Do you have a lacrosse team? How much is the total cost per year? These types of questions only let the college know that you have not read much about them.
10. Use summer wisely: To offset the lack of activities due to COVID-19, how are you spending the summer? Video games, hanging out with friends, sleeping, just bored? Those are not exciting for a college to know. How about an internship, investigating potential careers, volunteer work, paid positions? Maybe creative projects or intellectual endeavors? That sounds much better.
Hopefully, you are beginning to research potential colleges. Financial aid important? If so, start that research. You need to have items on your daily list.
Look above and get involved in the college admissions process.
Dr. Mark Fisher is a college and career consultant at Fisher Educational Consultants, www.fishereducationalconsultants.com, and is a consultant for the College Planning Institute, www.GotoCPI.com.