By Scott, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor
How does one prepare for a future that seems so uncertain? How do you pace yourself for a race whose length you don’t actually know? Or, more practically, how do you write admissions essays that will convince your dream school that all you want is to be a student there when you haven’t been able to visit? A lot of juniors are asking these questions and more as the school year begins and not much more is known about the future of college admissions than was the case a few months ago.
Core College Prep Remains the Same
Although an awful lot has changed in such a short period of time, the good news is that most of the principles of getting the most out of your time in high school and being prepared for the college admissions process remain the same.
You’ll ultimately still need grades that will put you in range for your schools of choice and an active extracurricular profile that demonstrates your stated interests. Of course, there are also limits to the extracurricular activities you can do when so much is shut down, and you may not be able to take the SAT right now with many testing centers closed. But colleges are aware of all of this and taking it into account.
For your part the focus should still remain on studying hard and finding ways to cultivate your interests so that by the time you do apply you have a good sense of what you’d like to study and which schools will be a good fit for you. This is a time where you can demonstrate your creativity and adaptability. So let’s examine a few areas where some out-of-the-box and also some conventional thinking can help you out.
It’s so disappointing to have a project delayed or cancelled or even an entire athletics season suddenly not an option. Never mind the college admissions process – you’ve worked so hard to make the varsity squad or break a school record. While the disappointment is real, there’s also a lot of opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons.
Are there activities you’re involved in that have stopped but that could be converted to virtual? What about joining an online club that builds on your academic interests? What about finding ways to serve others who are struggling at this time? With so many elderly people stuck in homes and unable to see their families, maybe you can launch an initiative to get resources out that will teach them how to use apps like Zoom.
This is also a good opportunity to branch out into other activities or projects you may not have considered. At IvyWise, we offer mentorship services, where students are guided through an independent project by one of our expert tutors, with a completed deliverable at the end. This allows students to continue to explore their interests while staying socially distant.
Basically, this is a good time to take stock of your interests and your skills and see where else you might be able to apply them.
College Visits and Researching Schools
We’ve all heard that the best way to know if a particular college is for you is to visit, and, unfortunately, that’s just not possible right now. While a visit is certainly a great way to get a feel for a campus, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. It’s always been true that students should know why a given school is an academic, social, and financial fit, and most of that research is best done online. Many universities have also set up online visits and information sessions where you can ask your questions, and it’s still possible to reach out to professors about their work and other opportunities that might be attractive to you as an eventual student there. Social media is also a great tool to supplement your online research and virtual visits. So while touring campus may not be an option at the moment, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to learn all you can.
This is perhaps the least certain area of the admissions process right now. Although most colleges have gone test-optional for this year’s applicants (and some schools for the next 2-3 years), there’s not a lot of clarity about what things will look like in the spring and how many colleges will continue to stay test-optional. But that means your best bet at this point is to prepare as if you were going to be taking these tests as usual. Standardized tests are tests that can be studied for, and the research shows a solid correlation between number of hours studied and a rise in scores. So keep preparing to give it your best shot should you be expected to submit test scores when you apply next fall.
At the best of times junior year can be stressful, and all of the uncertainty these days is only adding to the pressure. But within every difficult situation are embedded opportunities. Looking for those can both lead to interests you didn’t even know you had and show colleges your grit. That’s good for you and for your applications.
At IvyWise, we understand the struggle that students are facing this year as they continue to prepare for an uncertain college admissions process in the years ahead. Our team of expert counselors are here to guide you through every part of the college admissions process, including making the most of your college prep this year. Contact us today for more information on our college counseling services for high school students.