Written by Tyler Reimer, High School Counselor

The plan for college has had to change due to COVID-19. Traditional institutions and processes have had to be altered in new ways.  One of these is the college admissions process.  This past summer was supposed to be spent taking family vacations and stopping by prospective colleges along the way.

The main avenue of gaining information about a college out of reach, what are families left to do?

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources and opportunities still left to utilize and experience. While the coronavirus has shut down the traditional means, colleges and universities are finding new ways to have families experience their university.   Be optimistic. There are still ways to get the same information, just through different means. 

With that change comes opportunity.  Those families that can move along and understand the new process will take advantage of prospects and situations that might not have been an option before, so let’s look at these opportunities for change. 

How Has College Admissions Changed Because of COVID-19?

There are a few things that have drastically changed this year in college admissions.  I want to stress that they have just changed; they have not gone away forever. 

Potential college student visiting campus

Plan for College Visits

Getting your feet on a campus to experience it in person is a life-changing event.  Many of us adults remember walking around a campus and just knowing that this is the school for us.  Unfortunately for high school seniors, this has not and will not be an opportunity they will experience. 

These tours and visits have moved to online platforms.  That does not mean that you cannot get that same experience of knowing what school is the right fit.

Many colleges and universities are running their own online experiences for you to see and get to know the school.  Admission Reps are providing online individual, small and large group tours and visits for families. 

Getting on email lists, visiting websites, and even completing an application will allow you to get direct information about when and how these visits are happening. 

Tip 1 Make a top 5 colleges list and visit their websites

Websites such as StriveScan, YouVisit, CampusTours, and even the National Association of College Admissions Counselors (NACAC) have several ways to experience a college in a virtual setting. Many of these websites offer not just drone flyovers but VR tours!  You may have to create a login, but all have free options. 

Tip 2 Look up NACAC

Standardized Test Scores

Many state boards of education pay for and require an SAT or ACT for graduation. While this might still be the requirement for high school, it will not be the case for colleges and universities. 

Meaning of Test-Optional

ACT and SAT are a foundation of college admissions. Well, at least they were.  This year (and potentially from now on), most schools will be test-optional.  The majority of colleges will not penalize a student that cannot take the exam or compare them to a student that has taken an exam. 

COVID-19 has limited students’ options to take these exams. Holding students accountable to these tests is not feasible.  (There may be some majors at some schools that require a score, so please investigate and ask questions to college representatives). 

Colleges and universities will not hold a score against a student.  Test-optional truly means optional. Admissions  will let the holistic review determine a student’s admission.

The test-optional policy is good for some students who:

 do not feel comfortable taking tests

 score lower than their academic grades

 have deep roots in a club, activity, or work

 volunteer

 might not apply to a school because they have “seen the number” and think they’re “not worthy.”

A significant part of a plan for college is to decide whether or not to take the ACT or SAT. If you feel that a standardized test score will accurately reflect your student’s ability and you have access to a safe environment in which to test, taking the ACT or SAT is a good idea. 

If you need to take a test for a major but cannot, reach out to the specific school to problem-solve. 

Tip 3 Send test scores to colleges

Sending Test Results to Colleges for Free

If you take the SAT or ACT, you can send your scores to four schools for free.  You can add those schools after you take the exam through your portal.  Take the test. If you feel good about it, then send the scores to schools.  If your child feels that the scores were not a good reflection of their ability, then do not send them. 

Important:

You can select colleges to receive your scores before your test and after you test, as long as it is before you see your test results.

If you wait to decide until after you see your test score results, it will cost $13.00.

COVID-19 has impacted how colleges and universities are looking at incoming students.  They are still comparing high school seniors to other high school seniors, but this year will be focused more on holistic reviews, essays, and what else makes students who they are. 

What Is the Same in College Admissions During COVID-19?

College admission is still about the student and what he or she has accomplished over the four years of high school.  The typical plan for college won’t work this year. Finding a number to summarize the academics aspect is gone, but holistic reviews allow for more individuality.

Deadlines

The college application is your first college assignment; hand it in on time.  Deadlines, mainly November 1, are not changing drastically, and colleges still need to make their decisions in a timely manner.  A few schools might move a deadline back two weeks, but most deadlines are staying the same.

Tip 4 Different deadlines apply to scholarships and applications

Essays

Essays are where colleges are going to pick up from the loss of an SAT or ACT. Colleges will want to hear more about students’ lives, struggles, and how they overcame those hurdles.  Writing an essay that is personal, honest, and tells a story how a student has faced a challenge, adapted, and learned new habits is an ideal essay topic.

Tip 5 Highlight personal growth in your essay

Admissions offices want to know who the person behind the test scores and grades is. Reflect on your past experiences, and show your character, passions, and ambitions. Don’t write a description of your past events; instead, craft a story that demonstrates your unique thoughts and view of the world. 

What opportunities have you had in life, and how have you taken advantage of those to learn and grow?

Tip 6 Use Your Own Voice in Essays

Teacher Letters of Recommendation

Hearing from a third party about a student’s ability, cooperation, and work ethic are more important now than ever before.  Finding the right teacher to highlight a student’s strengths can be significant support for an applicant.

Tip 7 Teacher Recommendations

Most colleges require a teacher recommendation, and some require two. Ask your teacher three to four weeks before the recommendation is due. Write the due date on the form. Be sure to thank your teacher for writing the recommendation letter and let them know about your college acceptance.

Tip 8 Teachers

While many things have changed in the college admissions landscape, the core pillars stay the same.  Colleges want self-aware, intelligent, and cooperative students.  Admissions officers will compare applicants from this year only to applicants of this year.  Colleges are looking for students to tell their stories, and they are listening now more than ever.