Navigating the ‘new normal’ in college admission

Summer is often a busy and exciting time for rising high school seniors who will be college-bound this time next year.  There are college visits and lists to put together, SATs and ACTs to be taken, Common Application essays to write, and résumés to polish.
This year, COVID-19 has derailed many students’ plans.
In this “new normal,” seniors need to take the initiative in reaching out to colleges virtually and availing themselves of the online opportunities to connect with offices of admission and college representatives.
Sampling Colleges - Virtually
One excellent website for exploring colleges virtually is Strive Virtual College Exploration. There are over 400 presentations representing 500 colleges that are free for students to view on YouTube. For example, “Finding Your Fit From Afar,” features college admission representatives from Hamilton College, University of Miami and University of Richmond. 
Each representative spoke about how to make a college application stand out and display demonstrated interest without the benefit of an on-campus visit. They all spoke about college “fit.” In addition to learning how their college could help meet a student’s academic and personal goals, they wanted to know what that student would be able to contribute to their institution, such as specific interests, talents, or leadership.
Taking Virtual College Tours
Once students select colleges that they are interested in attending, they need to go to each college website and sign up for the virtual tour and information session. They also should do their homework on what each college specifically offers them and be prepared to reach out and ask questions of their admissions representatives. 
More colleges are now offering virtual interviews, and this can be a terrific opportunity to showcase a student’s strengths as well as highlight why they are a good fit for that institution. In lieu of an admission interview, area alumni interviews or informal coffee chats over Zoom are also options for displaying demonstrated interest.
The Common Application
Students should establish an account now and roll it over when the Common Application website becomes live on August 1 for the 2020-2021 admission cycle. The Common Application, also called the Common App, is an undergraduate college admission application students may use to apply to multiple colleges and universities.
The 650-word Common App essay is a critical piece of the application process and will be more important than ever.  An optional 250-word essay on the impact of COVID-19 has also been added this year. 
To Test or Not to Test
Many colleges are test optional for 2021, due, in part, to the cancellation of the SATs and ACTs this past spring and summer. That does not mean that colleges do not want to see student test scores — they do!  Test optional means that students oversee their own scores, according to an admission representative at Tulane University.
He recommends that if students have test scores in the 50% range or above of previously accepted students, (information found on the college website), they should submit. If they test below that level, they should apply as a test-optional applicant. It is still recommended that students sign up for one of the SATs or ACTs to be given
in August, September, or October. Scholarship programs and colleges, at schools such as Vanderbilt and Boston College, still require test scores — for the moment.
The Bottom Line
This could be a year that students consider a wider range of educational options and colleges.  In the absence of test scores, colleges say they will look more closely and holistically at student grades, recommendations, essays, extracurriculars and demonstrated interest. This can be a boon to students who plan ahead and put their best virtual foot forward in the “new normal” college admission process.
Mary Sudzina, PhD, has been providing college admission consulting on Daniel Island since 2006. Visit


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