Welcome to a new world. COVID-19 has affected us all–in ways big and small, seen and unseen; in our present-day lives, and in our unknown futures.
One of the most significantly impacted areas is education. On March 11, an ordinary day turned extraordinary when Wilton public schools were closed indefinitely. While parents worried about how they would handle homeschooling and seniors stressed over lost internships and graduation, high school juniors are left wondering about the impact this will have on the college application process.
Much, of course, is still unknown. But we are able to look ahead and see where changes and adjustments are most likely to occur. Three areas, in particular, will be greatly impacted: transcripts, testing and demonstrated interest.
Colleges know that high schools around the country have turned to eLearning. They’ve had to do it as well. They know that some schools are issuing pass/fail grades. Some have shortened classes or eased grading requirements. This shouldn’t worry you. Expect colleges to be understanding. They are used to dealing with a variety of grading scales, curriculum requirements and class rankings since there is no uniformity among U.S. high schools. While this is new territory, be assured that college admissions committees are up to the challenge of reading and assessing transcripts from this unusual school year.
Even Harvard has indicated that high school students will “not be disadvantaged” if their applications depart from the admissions guidelines they’ve used in the past and will not face a penalty if their schools move to a pass/fail grading system.
Of course, that’s not an excuse to slack off. Students should continue to put in their best effort and work hard in each class.
Perhaps the biggest change coming for the class of 2021 concerns standardized testing. Spring ACT and SAT dates have already been cancelled. Tutoring and test prep centers are closed and with all the stress of eLearning and social distancing, preparing for the SAT may be the furthest thing from teens’ minds right now. The good news is that we’ve already seen several schools announce that they will be test-optional for the coming year including Boston University, Tufts and Scripps. This has been the trend for several years now and it’s certain that coronavirus will push many more schools in that direction. Be sure to check college websites to keep up with changing requirements. You can refer to the Fairtest website for a complete list of all test-optional schools.
AP exams are also adjusting to the new world. Students will now be able to take a 45-minute “streamlined” exam at home. The College Board is offering free online review courses which will be available on-demand. You can find complete information and COVID-19 updates on the College Board website.
Many of you probably made plans to visit a host of colleges during spring break. Coronavirus had other plans. And colleges understand that. So they are ramping up their virtual tours and exploring new ways for you to speak with current students and alumni. Rather than the traditional information session you would attend before a tour, admission committees are developing webinars and online chat sessions to tell their stories. Continue to Like and Follow schools on social media and open any emails they may send. Also check out online student newspapers and unofficial social media sites like the soccer club’s Instagram or the improv troupe’s YouTube videos.
Virtual college tours are going to be the best way to visit schools for some time to come. Go to You Visit Virtual College Tours for tours of over 600 colleges and universities. It may not be the same as walking through campus, but it’s a great alternative until schools reopen.
Additionally, StriveScan is hosting a free Virtual College Exploration week April 20-23. You will be able to view presentations, connect with other students and be exposed to a wide range of colleges. Go to the StriveScan site to register.
Whatever additional challenges the coming application session brings, be assured that schools will be offering a great deal of understanding and flexibility. Remember that your application will be read by real people who are going through the same disruptions you are. So take a deep breath. Give eLearning your best effort. And start thinking about how you’re going to write about it all in your application essay.
Carrie Tobias is a Wilton mom and the owner of Essay Owl, a college application essay editing service. She offers guidance on topic selection, writing, revising and proofreading.