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How To Navigate Recent Changes in College Admissions

Hi Chill(ish) Parents,

Congratulations to the winners of the New Year, New Hope book giveaway! Signed and gift wrapped copies of College Admissions Cracked are in the mail to Ohio, Texas, Michigan, New Jersey, Colorado, and Kentucky. Thank you for entering the sweepstakes. If you didn’t win, you are still a winner because I’m devoting this newsletter to covering some of the most frequently asked questions and concerns I’ve received from parents lately.

How to Navigate Recent Changes in College Admissions (and What You Can Stop Worrying About Right Now)

Tips for tackling pandemic-motivated changes:

  1. College Visits are only available virtually, and they’ve become more like “college research” for the time being. Yes, computer screens are only 2D, so virtual visits are missing that third dimension. But on the plus side, students can “visit” a broader range of colleges virtually than may have been accessible to them live. Tip: Scheduling 2 virtual tours/week now = 18 “college visits” by mid-March, double the amount you could squeeze into a traditional spring break trip. With all that research under your belt, you can be more discerning and efficient about which college campuses are worth visiting IRL when it’s safe.
  2. Interviews are still happening remotely. I know it’s always easier to connect with a stranger face to unmasked face, but while that’s not possible, take solace knowing that all of those Zoom calls with teachers and Grandma have worked like interview rehearsals for your teenager. Tip: Download my free interview tips to help your child prepare further (and look for more detailed expert advice in an upcoming newsletter).
  3. Standardized Testing Even when test centers re-open, many of the colleges that are now test optional will never bring testing back into their admission equation. Sure, sign up for future test dates, but prepare yourself and your child for continued cancelations. Colleges are deemphasizing test scores, and so should you! In case you haven’t heard, the College Board just announced the end of Subject Tests as well as the Essay component of the SAT. Tip: Join our CPR Facebook Group for more updates on testing as they emerge.
  4. The Written Application is the part of the college admissions process that is (and always has been) 100% within your child’s control. This year, the Common Application included a 250-word optional space where students can describe Community Disruptions due to COVID-19. Otherwise, the essay prompts and the rest of the application are pretty much the same as before. Tip: Parents of juniors, have a conversation with your child now about how and when that application will get written. If your student is anxious and wants a plan, turn to p. 26 in College Admissions Cracked to learn all your “outside intervention” options. If, realistically, your kid won’t tackle the essays until closer to application deadlines, at least you’ll know. Prepare with a freezer full of ice cream and a prescription for Xanax!
  5. Recommendations from junior (or senior) year teachers and a guidance counselor are traditionally required by colleges as part of the application. I’ve heard lots of complaints from students about how hard it is to build personal connections remotely. I want to reassure you that colleges understand and are offering more flexibility this year, some accepting one teacher recommendation instead of two, others fine with recs from sophomore or freshman teachers. Tip: Encourage your child to make the extra effort to visit teachers and guidance counselors during virtual office hours to get extra help, discuss their future, and build relationships.

Myths you can stop stressing about today:

  1. The way my child’s school has handled classes & grading is going to put her at a disadvantage. The modality your kid’s school chose to deliver instruction is not in your control, will not be held against your child when they apply to colleges, and is not worth another moment of worry. Students are evaluated for admission within the context of their own environment. If your child’s school offered all classes virtually and graded pass/fail, she’ll be evaluated differently from the kid in the neighboring school district that held classes live and dispensed letter grades.
  2. All the kids who deferred last year are going to make it harder for my kid to get in this year. There is zero indication that this is happening. Colleges have suffered tremendous financial losses from the repercussions of COVID-19. Inside Higher Education’s September Survey of Admissions Leaders reported that the vast majority of colleges will likely admit more students, not less, in an attempt to offset their losses with tuition revenue,.
  3. All the extracurricular cancellations will devastate my child’s hard-earned college resume. Athletes are missing sports seasons, actors are missing their chance for a lead in the spring musical, and the list of disappointments goes on and on. I am so very sorry for the mental toll this is taking on children, but as for the college resume…if any good is to come out of this dark period, it’s deemphasizing the idea that kids should run themselves ragged with activities to impress colleges. Read Care Counts In Crisis: College Admissions Deans Respond to COVID-19. Encourage activities that preserve mental health and inspire personal growth for your child rather than those they joined to achieve an accolade, with the added benefit of parenting a future leader.
  4. Getting into college is more competitive than ever before. Everybody said that last year as the Operation Varsity Blues scandal unfolded. And the year before. And the year before that. While the headlines broadcast that the most highly selective colleges (that make up only 0.17% of the U.S. four-year colleges and universities, BTW) are harder to get into this year, The Common Application reported in mid-November that for the vast majority of schools, College Applications Are Decreasing.

Of course, the big question is What will happen next fall (or even this spring)? I’ve been posting the pundits’ predictions in our Chill Parents’ Revolution Facebook Group, so join us there for the latest news.

If we have learned anything during this pandemic, it’s that we parents plan, and God laughs. The key to weathering this unprecedented moment is to focus on what’s in your controlStudents have agency to keep up their grades, write impactful essays, and maintain a positive attitude toward the college admissions process. Parents can help them prepare a calendar to hit deadlines and coordinate college “visits,” in whatever form those may take. All that other stuff that’s not in our control (so much of the rest of our lives) is not worth your time and stress. You have enough to worry about. You’re parenting a teenager! Please stay safe, and lean upon your Chill Parents’ community when you need us.



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