By Zach, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor
“We’re all in this together.” We’ve all heard this more than a few times by now, right? It’s a bit cheesy and a bit cliché, but at least when it comes to universities, high schools, teachers, counselors, parents, and students, I wholeheartedly subscribe to it. We truly are all in this together.
As parents and students understandably grow anxious with valid what-ifs concerning future standardized test dates, how high schools will administer grades for the final three months of the year, and what affect it will have on application evaluation, college admission deans and directors are also wondering how they can best evaluate applications while compensating for all of these variables, in addition to trying to draw interest from admitted and prospective students alike with a closed campus.
Everyone involved is desperate for answers and we don’t know what will happen this fall – not the colleges, the counselors, or the families. But for all that seems out of your control now, remember that you are still fully in control of how you represent yourself during virtual learning, what you do during your free time, and the story you tell colleges in the essay portion(s) of the application. That’s right: you’re still in control.
Revise Your Checklist
For at least the last decade, the selective college admissions process has been perceived as a formula – a code to crack that reveals an exact recipe to getting in. Do you have a certain score on the SAT or ACT? Have you taken the advanced-level courses your school offers and achieved strong grades? Did you check the boxes by demonstrating interest? But now that daily lives have been upended by the current pandemic, there’s a phrase I never thought I’d write – the standard checklist is gone.
A huge number of juniors have taken a standardized test only once, and many more not at all. The race to huge test scores can’t be run if students only have one score to submit, or possibly two taken more than six months apart. Grades and courses have been turned sideways due to remote learning, forcing colleges to dig deeper into a student’s transcript. Boosts to admission chances for visiting campus twice and doing an on-campus interview can no longer be considered.
Now is the time to look at all those boxes you haven’t checked yet and see how you can adjust. Can I do virtual information sessions rather than in-person to learn about schools and demonstrate my interest? My summer plans were canceled but what can I do to get creative with how I spend my break?
I’m not asserting that grades, course rigor, and test scores will become irrelevant this fall; they have always been the most important part of the application and will continue to be. But when the tangible pieces of an application become compromised, the intangible portions will get a chance to shine brighter. I’m excited for this reality, and as a former admissions officer myself, I’m willing to bet the humans behind the admission process are, too.
Control What You Can
Admission counselors have always worked to get to know the student behind the transcript and test score, and our current situation may have made that process even more important. With application components like grades and test scores undergoing massive evaluation and creative reconfiguration, the softer, less tangible, and more personal components of the application will likely matter more.
What role do you play in your school community, and what kind of student are you in the classroom – physical or virtual? Recommendation letters from your guidance counselor and teachers will paint a meaningful picture, and universities will want students who help unite a community or who rise to the occasion in a virtual classroom.
What are you involved in, and how were you able to stay active in those extracurriculars despite social distancing and learn-from-home setups? Being creative and thinking outside the box has never been more valuable.
What do you choose to write about in your personal statement and college-specific supplemental essays? A thoughtful, authentic reply has always mattered, but I have a feeling they are going to become even more appreciated and rewarded for the class of 2021.
While there are still a lot of unknowns, students should feel empowered knowing that there is still a lot in their control. Show them who you are.
At IvyWise we work with students through every aspect of the college admissions process, including adjusting college prep timelines and plans to accommodate personal and global circumstances. Contact us today for more information on our college counseling services, and download our free 2020-21 College Prep and Admissions Guide.