As I wrote in my previous post (“Has the World of College Admission Changed Forever?”) about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the college admission for students that are nearing the end of the admission journey, my advice to high school juniors who are just beginning the application process opens with the reminder that college admission officers are working just as hard as you to figure out what to do in this new reality. 

If you are concerned about putting together a great application, the colleges understand your worries and are also worried about you. But what they care about is not that you try to dazzle them in your application in the same way that you may have been thinking about just a few weeks ago. Rather, they want you to focus on staying healthy and being the best student you can be. 

Many of the specific questions I hear from high school juniors and their families are regarding standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT, and extracurricular activities. 

Here are a couple of examples.

“If all colleges are test-optional now, do I still have to take the SAT or ACT?”

As you probably know, there have already been canceled test dates, and there may be more. One of the ways that colleges have responded to the pandemic and the resulting canceled test dates is by choosing to be test-optional for next year—and in some cases, permanently.

If you are a high school junior, you may be thinking, “Great, I don’t have to take the SAT at all because all the colleges are test-optional.” Well, it’s not that simple.

Whether or not you choose to forgo taking the SAT or ACT is an individual decision. If you’ve already taken the test and have a good score, you may want to continue studying and consider retaking it at the next available test date (whenever that may be) to see if you can bring your score up. If you’re struggling with the SAT and ACT, and your effort would be better spent on school or taking care of yourself and your family in this challenging time, it might make sense for you to cancel your plans for taking the test for the near future.

“What am I going to do about extracurricular activities this summer?”

Another big question I hear from high school juniors is about extracurricular activities. I’ll be honest; I’m divided as to how to respond to this question.

On the one hand, this is a time to be creative with your extracurricular activities. It’s a time to think about how you could use online technology to continue extracurriculars you were doing before or think of something new that you could contribute to your school, your community, or the world through digital means.

On the other hand, this abrupt change to your regular school life could be an opportunity to take a break from what I often see as an extracurricular “arms race.” Students feel unnecessarily compelled to do more, be better than the next applicant, earn the next award, or be the president of another club—all to put in a college application. 

Recently, an admission officer of an Ivy League university reflected that they remember when summer vacation was a time for—vacation. Instead of planning the next set of extracurricular pursuits, my recommendation is, maybe it’s a better, healthier choice to have a real summer break. 

Another Reassuring Reminder

What I’m hearing loud and clear from colleges is a strong commitment to being flexible and understanding when reviewing next year’s group of applications. 

In my role on the Common Application Counselor Advisory Committee, there’s an active discussion about how colleges will invite counselors and students to share information about the ways their schooling has been disrupted by this pandemic. If you chose to, you would be able to share information in the common app with colleges about how the coronavirus has impacted your high school experience.

Finally, I want to end this post by reminding you of some of the most important points I made in my previous post

  1. Be patient. Answers to many questions about your college application will come soon. 
  2. Remember that colleges are in the same boat as you and me. They are working hard to make good decisions for you and all future applicants. 
  3. Stay focused on your high school classes even though you may be learning in a different format than you were just a few weeks ago. Do your best to learn and enjoy your classes. Reach out to your teachers, support your fellow students. 
  4. When it comes to extracurriculars, think out of the box but also give yourself permission to take a step back and relax a little bit.

If you have more questions or concerns about navigating the potential changes the current crisis has produced in the college application process, please contact me. I’m an Independent Educational Consultant with many years of experience in my field; it would be my pleasure to use my expertise to support your admission journey (including any newfangled detours you may encounter!).