As we move into June, we’re facing a “drop-down menu” of how to move forward with life. There are many uncertainties. But it’s certain that education will continue and that rising high school seniors will be applying to college. How to plan for this uncertain future is on everyone’s mind.
I’ve spent the past few months participating in information sessions, webinars, and Zoom meetings with dozens of admissions officers and hundreds of fellow educational consultants. I’ve received clear, cogent explanations of issues and possible resolutions. Many schools are planning everything from a virtual first semester to a complete re-opening with adjustments for social distancing.
Michael E. Moore Jr., Union College’s Associate Dean of Admissions and Coordinator of Multicultural Recruitment, refers to this multiple-perspective approach as PMT: Planning for Multiple Tomorrows. The administrations of colleges and universities worldwide have been making efforts to do just that. Here are some recent updates:
Admissions and Applications News:
Everyone in the admissions world understands that applicants are “all in the same boat,” and they won’t be penalized because their academic, extra-curricular, and personal lives have been disrupted by COVID-19.
Many admissions officers have indicated an availability—even an eagerness—to answer emails and phone calls from applicants who have questions or concerns. This is an opportunity to reach out to knowledgeable professionals who are currently working from home. They’ve all expressed a willingness to respond and to share information as they work feverishly to move forward.
In order to give applicants the opportunity to explain how COVID-19 has affected them, the Common Application has added an optional essay of up to 250 words. Applicants may discuss personal, academic, athletic, extra-curricular, work-related, and/or financial issues. This essay won’t replace the personal statement or the current Additional Information 650-word option for students to discuss “circumstances and qualifications not reflected elsewhere in the application.”
Additionally, according to the Common App, high school guidance counselors will be invited to explain the effects of COVID-19 on their individual schools, including changes in grading scales and policies, graduation requirements, instructional methods, schedules and course offerings, testing requirements, the academic calendar, and other extenuating circumstances.
In terms of deadlines, most schools won’t be changing their dates for early decision, early action, or priority admission. Some may add an ED2 option for January.
Colleges and universities that require individual and group auditions are in the process of working out procedures that will allow for social distancing as well as for students who will not be able to travel to do these auditions in person.
Colleges Continue to Revise SAT and ACT Requirements:
Colleges and universities are continuing to make decisions about standardized tests. Harvard, Cornell, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania have reconsidered the role of the SATs and ACTs in admissions. Others, including Dartmouth, Yale, Brown, and Stanford, will still require them. Amherst College and Williams College in Massachusetts have gone test-optional for this year’s applicants.
Just recently, the entire University of California system changed its testing requirements for upcoming years but some future changes may be specifically for California students. UC will be test-optional for fall 2021 and 2022. The system will be test-blind for fall 2023 and 2024 for California public and independent high school applicants in terms of admissions, but test scores may still be used for course placement, certain scholarships and eligibility for the statewide admissions guarantee.The SAT Essay/ACT Writing Tests will no longer be required for undergraduate admissions, and the scores won’t be used at all for fall 2021 admissions. More future changes will be under consideration as well.
Be very clear about the consequences of the test-optional policies offered by colleges and universities. There are still advantages to taking the SAT or ACT if you can, especially because even some “test-optional” schools will still be using the scores to evaluate students for merit awards and honors programs. The websites of individual schools will provide up-to-date information about their policies and processes. Fairtest.org provides continuous updates of changes in testing policies.
For students who plan to take the SAT or ACT, there are some planned testing dates. Although the ACT is at this time still offering the test on June 13, ACT.org indicates that “during the week of May 26, we will notify students and announce all test center closings and cancellations for the June 13 test date. However, as ACT and other agencies navigate ongoing developments, testing at any test center is subject to change at any time between now and June 13, 2020.”
Future 2020 ACT tests are currently scheduled for September 12, October 24 and December 12.
Future 2020 SAT tests are currently scheduled for August 29, September 26, October 3, November 7 and December 5.
College Visits: Virtual or Actual?
Although many schools are hoping to re-open their campuses in the fall for actual visits, most colleges are creating a wide range of virtual opportunities for potential applicants to explore their campus, academics and student life. These opportunities have some interesting advantages. Many families find the cost of travel to visit schools to be daunting, and they are happy to view their college options virtually. This may be more relaxing for students who will feel more comfortable asking questions that they wouldn’t necessarily ask at an actual tour or info session in the company of their parents and peers. Also, these opportunities are less stressful in terms of minding social distancing, which may continue to be the wave of the future.
Some schools that offer Zoom meetings and webinars will track those who attend for the purpose of demonstrated interest, but many schools won’t be using interest as a factor for admissions except through school-specific essays. However, if a student is deferred or wait-listed, interest may play a valuable role.
What can students do once their high school obligations are behind them?
Instead of waiting until the fall to make your lists of schools to which you hope to apply, it would be better to do that over the next month or two. It’s important to keep track of what each school requires or requests.
Now is also the right time to fill out your Common Application or Coalition Application as well as to complete your personal statement, and the optional additional information and COVID-19 essays. By August 1, you’ll be able to start working on the supplemental questions and/or essays from individual colleges and universities.
Ask several teachers to write recommendations for you. Use your high school’s brag sheet or a list of items that the teachers would find useful to help them write their own letters. Also, you may be able to ask “Other Recommenders” such as coaches, club advisers, employers and others who know you well to write supplemental references. They’ll be able to send those references via Common App.
Learn about financial aid options. Be sure to become familiar with the College Cost's net-price calculator which will help to determine college affordability and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms. Information about the approaches of individual schools to financial need will be available in a future newsletter.
And a final word for students who hope to be heading to their new campus in the fall:
Be ready for all contingencies, including purchasing the usual supplies that you would need to bring with you. College Essay Whiz offers a fabulous Ultimate Packing List for your needs! Keep all receipts, but move forward!
As standardized tests are cancelled, postponed or re-designed, the options for submitting scores have become more important to understand. It’s essential to keep up-to-date with the policies of the schools to which students will be applying.
Here are some terms relevant to standardized tests that you may need to understand:
Test Required: Some colleges and universities will continue to mandate ACT or SAT scores. For many very selective as well as very large schools, these tests are second only to the GPA as a deciding factor when evaluating candidates.
• These scores may still be used to determine whether a student would qualify for financial merit awards, honors programs, highly selective programs and majors, or dual degrees.
• Division 1 and 2 athletes and home-schooled students may be required to submit scores.
• Some schools may allow students to apply early and submit test scores at a somewhat later date.
Test Optional: In addition to the colleges and universities that already have a test-optional admissions policy, the COVID-19 Pandemic has spurred more institutions to go with test-optional admissions. Over 50 schools have recently decided to give applicants a choice as to whether they wish to submit scores for the application year. More colleges and universities are considering this option, and it is likely that many of them will offer it for next year, at least. This means that the GPA becomes an even more important consideration, in addition to essays, recommendations, and activities.
• Keep in mind that if you exercise this option, you may lose your eligibility for the college programs and financial aid opportunities that may still be based on standardized test scores. That will require keeping up with the policies of each individual school.
• Consider carefully whether you should make every effort to study for and take these tests. If your scores put you out of the running for the advantages listed above, then you don’t have to report them.
Test Flexible: This option allows colleges and universities to provide their own lists of test scores for students to submit for consideration, including IB, AP, the ACT Assessment Tests or the SAT Reasoning Tests.
Test Blind: For some schools, students are not obligated to submit any standardized test scores at all, especially if they already have achieved a particular GPA. Students sometimes may still decide to submit their scores if they choose.
CEW Suggestion: The most logical course of action is to sign up to take SAT, ACT, SAT subject tests, and AP exams in order to have maximum flexibility when the time comes to apply. Many colleges and universities are waiting to see if tests will be offered in time for early applications to be submitted in the fall of 2020.
You’ve dealt with the disappointment of an unfinished sports season, a cancelled school play or concert, a final project, or the opportunity to rock final exams. Long-awaited summer plans—trips, camps, programs at universities all over the world—are no longer feasible due to COVID-19. But even as universities scramble to consider a range of possible scenarios for the upcoming summer and fall semesters, admissions officers have a message for high school students who plan to apply to colleges: This is the time to be inventive by delving into new and fulfilling projects.
Here are some ideas for you to consider.
1. Research and sign up for college online programs; check with any of the colleges in which you are interested and see what they are offering to high school students.
2. Start your college application process: Research colleges virtually and start filling out the applications; do drafts of your personal statement; create your resume and an activities list.
3. Learn a new language or become more fluent in a language you’ve studied.
4. Start a journal or a blog about your thoughts.
5. Learn to play a new musical instrument, to understand music theory or composition. There are hundreds of resources to get free lessons from Fender, YouTube, individual artists, and the Berklee School of Music.
6. If you cook or bake, ask your friends and family to share recipes and create a survival cookbook. Take a Masterclass on how to make and publish a cookbook.
7. Research your heritage: Create a family tree, interview your relatives and learn more about your family history. Find photos and put together a digital album.
8. Learn about an area of art, music, theatre or literature. Try your hand at painting, drawing, composing, music theory or writing.
9. Read and watch videos of Shakespearean plays.
10. Study a particular period of history and write a historical novel or play.
11. Read about mythology; compare the mythologies of different civilizations.
12. Pick a topic in your favorite subject and do some research; follow experts in the field.
13. Interview professionals in a field that interests you; arrange to intern when you are able to do so later on.
14. Create an online survey about a topic that interests you; tabulate and analyze the results.
15. Pick an author and read a variety of his or her books, stories, articles or poems/keep a journal of your thoughts and/or start a virtual book club.
16. Learn grammar, punctuation, and spelling; enrich your vocabulary.
17. “Visit” several countries, sights, museums, national parks, etc., and write blogs about them.
18. Learn about interesting areas of science such as meteorology, ornithology, astronomy, epidemiology, etc.
19. Contact your own high school for ways to do online tutoring.
20. Research and pursue opportunities to volunteer online.
21. Connect with people who are alone, old or ill; organize your friends to do the same and share your experiences.
22. Learn about cars for basic care and maintenance.
23. Learn and share information about the life skills you will need when you go to college: time and money management, doing laundry, basic cooking, sewing, basic first aid, arranging your own transportation, etc.
24. Learn to sew, knit or crochet; open an Etsy store to sell your work
5. Learn Tik Tok dances or any other kinds of dancing.
Think about some of these ideas to pursue; learn something new and different...something that will show that you’ve got the flexibility, the spirit, and the drive to deal gracefully with change.
Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or concerns about any aspects of the college application process in our “new normal” world. My role as an independent educational consultant is to provide you with as much information and guidance as possible.
During these difficult times, educational institutions and organizations are trying to help alleviate stress and pressure by offering practical, sensitive and innovative solutions to logistical, financial and academic issues caused by COVID-19. Here are some recent updates in that regard.
College Decision Day: Extensions and Connections
Many colleges and universities have recently extended deadlines for students to commit to enroll. May 1 has traditionally been known as Decision Day, when accepted students confirm their intention to attend a particular school and to pay a deposit. This year, however, in order to be sensitive to the needs of students and their families, many schools have extended the date to June 1.
Many students are still in the process of finding means other than actual visits to learn more about the schools to which they have been accepted. In addition to the suggestions in my previous blog post, I have access to a cooperative service provided to IECA (Independent Educational Consultants Association) members, who are sharing firsthand resources that will help applicants make informed decisions. Please contact me if you would like further information.
Colleges may help to handle financial problems due to COVID-19
Colleges and universities have always had policies in force for families whose financial difficulties might affect their ability to pay college tuition and fees. According to NACAC, financial aid administrators in many schools will work with families whose incomes have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are several courses of actions for families whose financial situations have recently been significantly altered.
Students and their parents should contact their chosen university’s financial aid office to ask for further assistance. Be prepared with all necessary documentation, and be clear and direct about your situation and needs. Also, students or families that have not completed a FAFSA form may do so until June 30, 2020.
Testing Cancellations and Postponements
New York State Regents exams cancelled: The New York State Board of Regents has decided to cancel all end-of-year Regents exams and has clarified the requirements to receive a high school diploma. The New York State Education Department has prepared a PDF with details about the revisions.
SAT Tests: The College Board is continuously updating test dates, policies and practices on their "SAT Coronavirus Updates" page. The SAT originally scheduled for May 2 has been canceled. The next SAT is still scheduled for the first weekend of June.
ACT Tests: The ACT has rescheduled its April 4 national test date to June 13. All students registered for the April 4 test should receive an email from ACT with information and instructions for free rescheduling to June 13 or a future national test date. The ACT website will provide updates.
IB Exams (International Baccalaureate): The May 2020 examinations for Diploma Career-related Programmes have been cancelled worldwide, according to the IB website.
AP Tests have been re-designed rather than cancelled
According to a College Board survey of 18,000 AP students, 91% of those who responded wanted the option of taking AP tests rather than cancelling them. Many students indicated that they wished to have some control over their academic futures, especially when so many of their senior year activities, sports seasons, and events like prom and graduations have been cancelled. Students know that AP credit from colleges and universities provide a great academic benefit by allowing them to fulfill requirements and to take higher level courses sooner; in addition, students with a significant amount of credit may achieve second semester-freshman or even sophomore standing, which is a tremendous financial advantage.
Therefore, the decision was made to re-design the AP exams for this year only. Trevor Packer, head of the AP program and leader of the Instruction Division of the College Board, presented a webcast that clearly explained the reasons, format, and anticipated administration of all 38 AP tests.
Any students who will be taking this year’s AP exams should be aware of the following:
AP Coronavirus Updates provides information for AP students, teachers and coordinators.
Traditional proctored exams will be replaced by 45-minute at-home online free-response tests, which will be held May 11 - 22, with make-ups offered June 1 - 5. Students worldwide will take each subject’s exam at the same time. AP Central lists the current Exam Dates and Fees.
Scoring will continue to be on a scale of 1 to 5. Colleges and universities that accept AP credit have agreed to stand by the test format and will honor the grades that the students receive.
Students will be able to take the exams on any device, including cell phones, tablets, laptops and desktops. Any students who do not have access to the appropriate hardware or connectivity or who have limited data plans should reach out to their counselors or to the College Board, which provides a form for students to fill out by April 24 to request assistance.
Students who have documented learning disabilities or need for extended time in testing will be accommodated.
Since students will be able to refer to their books, notes and the internet, there will be no multiple choice or strictly content questions. Questions will be more like what the students have been practicing all year. For example, AP English Language will have a “Rhetorical Analysis” question; AP Literature will have a Prose Fiction Analysis; AP History courses will have DBQs (document-based questions), and AP Government and Politics will have an argumentative essay. The foreign language exams will have no reading or writing that require direct translation, since that could be done by Google Translate.
Students will have the option to hand-write and then take a screenshot of the essay and upload it, or they might type it and upload or copy and paste. The tests will be timed, with a few minutes after each question to place the answer. There will be a timer on the screen that can be turned on and off by the student, but it is advisable to keep it on in order to keep track of the time limits.
Students are expected to adhere to the prohibition from consulting with others, either personally or via social media. Sophisticated protocols and plagiarism software are to be in place to discover any cheating. Any students whose work is determined to be the result of cheating will be reported to all colleges and universities to which they have sent their standardized test scores.
Teachers will receive copies of their students’ answers by May 26. They also may monitor the students’ responses to ensure that it is their own work. Teachers will be allowed to use the exam responses as they see fit as part of the students’ grades (finals, quarterly grades, major assignments, etc.).
Students who are taking AP courses have already registered for the tests. If they choose not to proceed with the tests, they should check with their counselors and teachers to determine the advisability of that course of action.
To help prepare for the exams: Opportunities for extra study, preparation and practice will be provided, including preliminary simulations of test conditions at home. The College Board has provided free online review courses, video tutorials, and online simulations of the exams. AP LIVE on YouTube will feature sessions given by experienced teachers in each course for review of the material and for guided practice answering questions for the exam. There is an AP LIVE schedule for students to consult. As of late April, there will be an at-home testing guide for students as well.
For the future: Colleges are already anticipating the need to help freshmen overcome any gaps in courses that are essential to the coursework they will be handling as undergraduates. Students may work with their advisers in their colleges in order to determine if they would be more comfortable re-taking classes like Calculus, even if they completed the course in high school, if that becomes necessary.
I will continue to keep everyone up-to-date as more information becomes available. If you have specific questions that you would like me to answer, don’t hesitate to reach out.
In a continuing effort to provide updates that will help us get through this “new normal,” here is some more information about changes, strategies and suggestions.
AP exams to be restructured: In order to do as much social distancing as possible and to administer the Advanced Placement test fairly, the College Board has announced that 45-minute free-response online exams will replace the standard format. According to AP Central, the exam will cover only topics and skills covered by most teachers and students by early March.
Since some students will want to take the test soon while the coursework is still fresh in their minds and others will want more study time, there will be two different testing dates for each AP course. According to AP Central, colleges “support this solution and are committed to ensuring that AP students receive the credit they have worked this year to earn. For decades, colleges have accepted a shortened AP Exam for college credit when groups of students have experienced emergencies.”
The full exam schedule and more details will be available by April 3. AP Central is planning to provide free resources to students through the exam periods. If students want to cancel their registration for any exam, they can do so at no charge.
NACAC is regularly providing updates about changes to policies and deadlines posted by colleges and universities. This very useful chart contains information about where, when and how schools are currently hosting admissions events, whether they have changed their candidate reply dates or deposit deadlines, how to contact each institution’s admission or financial aid office, and links to more information. Read the instructions regarding the filters, which explain how to narrow your search and sort results. This tool updates in real time as NACAC receives input. It is an excellent resource.
Virtual Tours: Many schools have turned their attention to fine-tuning their virtual visits. For example, Tulane University, which is well known for its enthusiasm for demonstrated interest, has created an outstanding virtual visit opportunity. Columbia University also offers an excellent virtual tour. Visit the websites of the schools you are considering to see if they have virtual tours as well.
Other ways to learn about colleges and universities from their websites:
Sign up for any online information sessions
Keep informed through each school’s social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, admissions blogs and podcasts, etc.
Learn if the school is offering individual opportunities to speak with admissions officers through Zoom, Skype, FaceTime or phone
Access the school’s student publications that are available online
Common App continues to offer answers to questions and assistance with disruptions specifically related to the coronavirus. Email them directly.
Having trouble managing your stress and anxiety? Read College Essay Whiz’s Guest Post by Melissa Cohen, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and author.