May 26, 2020

Planning for Multiple Tomorrows

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!

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