Covid-19 and College Admissions, Part 3

This is part of a series of periodic updates to help address some of the “What about …” questions that families have about the effect of Covid-19 on college admissions.  If you’re interested, check out Part 1 and Part 2.

Boston University created a stir in the higher education community a few days ago, when they reported that working through contingency plans included a model in which in-person, on-campus classes didn’t resume until January 2021 or even August 2021.  While this seems unsettling at first glance, it was part of several possible contingencies they were considering.  I’m glad that they are contemplating the possibility that it won’t be business as usual in the fall. 

Most colleges are dealing with issues on a priority basis – spring semester, admitted student events, commencement ceremonies, and summer programs.  Just this morning, the US Naval Academy announced it was cancelling several weeks of summer STEM and leadership camps for high school students. 

It is prudent for colleges to try to game out options if they cannot return to normal operations at the end of summer or for an entire school year.  I hope that most colleges are having these conversations.

Virtual Admissions Visits

I had planned to spend next week on an extended college visit road trip with my youngest son.  We were going to see several campuses and also watch the finals of the NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge.  He would be checking out some colleges on his list and I would get an in person feel for colleges so I could discuss them with future clients.  Like many other families, we have shelved our road trip plans (though I’m still hoping to watch the Rover competition in some future year). 

I’ve been taking advantage of a number of online webinars with college admissions offices, and my son has an email inbox full of links to virtual info sessions, live chats, and opportunities to engage with current students.  There is no question that this can all get overwhelming. 

College Wise has created a lengthy spreadsheet of virtual resources for colleges.  However, keep in mind that it’s very difficult to keep up with new information being offered by colleges around the country.  What’s more, an exhaustive listing doesn’t really matter if you only care about a dozen colleges. 

Use resources like this as a tip sheet, but also follow the colleges you care about on social media (I like Facebook and YouTube, but Twitter and Instagram can also point you towards good information and chances to connect with colleges).  Look beyond the official news streams like the main university or admissions department accounts to student run newspapers, alumni groups, and social media groups for individual departments, clubs, and teams.  Use the information you find to create your own list of resources. 

I encourage my students to make a list of qualities that make a school a good fit.  This is essentially a grading rubric to use when watching the virtual info sessions, reading through the social media feeds, or searching through the college websites.  Focus on what makes the school a good match for you, not what gets it publicity.  It doesn’t matter if they are a Big 10 powerhouse if you don’t care about sports.  If you haven’t yet considered what factors you’re looking for, these surveys by Steven Antonoff are a great place to start. 

As you go through email, feel free to unsubscribe from colleges you know aren’t a good fit AND reach out and ask for info from colleges you do care about.  It can be hard to manage the flood of email even during a “normal” admissions season.  College emails are marketing; they shouldn’t command your time if you know they aren’t a good match.

Applications

For juniors, as ever my motto “Don’t Panic” applies.  Not because I have all the answers, three easy tricks to get into your dream school, or a secret side door that will amaze you; but because panic rarely solves crisis situations and often makes them worse. 

There is a lot about the current situation that isn’t under our control.  This includes school schedules, cancellation of cherished activities, changes in grading policies, and financial uncertainty.  It’s normal to grieve what you are losing this year and to be uncertain about what is coming.  As far as college admissions goes, it’s also worth remembering that this is happening across your whole district, state, and country.  Colleges aren’t going to hold it against you personally that the SAT was cancelled or that your junior year grades include a semester of pass/fail.  This doesn’t mean that highly selective schools will be less competitive next year.  It does mean you should lessen your attempt to tightly hold onto what you don’t really control.

I read a couple good posts from admissions officers that spoke to this.  Interestingly they were both from colleges in Georgia.  Both are encouraging and also serve as a reminder that staff at admissions offices are also going through these chaotic times and trying to adapt to new realities.  

Being Seen – This One Is for the Juniors by Rick Clark at Georgia Tech.

An Open Letter for Juniors and Seniors from Giselle F. Martin at Emory University

Financial Matters

If you used 529 funds to pay for college expenses AND the college refunded money this year, you definitely want to consider the tax ramifications of getting this money back and consider if you need to take actions.  This article from Kiplinger did a great job of exploring the situation. 

Look for the Helpers

Fred Rogers used to tell a story about his mother’s advice to “look for the helpers” when there was a scary situation.  I’ve been encouraged by the number of colleges whose students, faculty, and alumni are rising up to help others struggling in the present situation.  Some campuses are on the forefront of coronavirus research, a number of medical schools are graduating students early in order to send new doctors and nurses to where they are needed, and many students and faculty are using school maker spaces to 3D print and sew protective equipment for critical uses.   A lot of colleges talk about developing attitudes of service.  I appreciate seeing these words become actions.

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