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Uplifting News for College Applicants in Dark Times

Social-distancing-appropriate greetings in the throes of unprecedented life disruption, anxiety bouncing around the world like a ping-pong ball on steroids, and concerns about what all the changes in the college admissions landscape will mean for your student.

My greatest hope for you is HEALTH.

Second greatest, I hope you feel your stress melt away when I tell you that despite everything—from campus closures to test cancellations—college admissions success is possible! I am no substitute for ice cream, chocolate, or wine (the 3 major food groups during times of crisis), but I hope I can help you solve some of the lurking mysteries in the college admissions arena, so you can go about solving the much bigger mystery of where to find toilet paper.

Some Uplifting News for College Applicants in Dark Times

1.     More students will have an equal opportunity to “visit” more colleges.

Have you heard about the private jet company that whisks students from college to college over spring break so they can cram in more college visits, with a personal essay coach onboard? Well, that’s not happening this year. Of course, few of us have $60,000 to spare on this luxury even when the country’s economy is not in freefall, but don’t worry. This year, it’s equaling out.

While shuttered campuses and cancelled tours may seem like bad news, there’s a silver lining. College admissions officers are busting their tails to create virtual experiences to mirror as closely as possible stepping foot on campus and feeling the vibe. I must say, some of them have become inspired, offering virtual reality tours, current students’ blogs, and webinars on their websites.

As the director of admission at the University of Washington pointed out in my recent New York Times article, How to Make College Decisions When Campuses Are Closed, many students who normally couldn’t afford travel for college visits (let alone whirlwind tours on those now grounded private jets) have equal access this year to online campus tours and current student voices. It’s an impressive second best to actually being there (though many students don’t have access to technology with schools and libraries closed—we still have a long way to go for true equal access).

2.     More colleges will waive standardized testing requirements for applicants.

Cancelled SAT and ACT test dates are no problem for the 1080 colleges that had already adopted test-optional or test-flexible admission policies before COVID-19 was even a known thing. More colleges and universities join their ranks every day meaning one less hurdle for college-bound high school students to stress about.

For those still planning to take standardized tests, the ACT announced last year that an online option would arrive in September 2020. And I’ll bet my house (where we are all stuck for the foreseeable future) that the College Board is scrambling to produce an online option too—they already broadcast they’ll administer their May AP exams online, with no multiple choice-section, and in forty-five minutes. Honestly, I don’t know how exactly this will work, but I do know that colleges will accept the AP credits students earn this year as readily as they always have. Plus, that’s a three-hour and fifteen-minute savings of students’ young lives from the time it took to take an AP test last year, so yay!

3.     You have time to reassess affordability before you decide on or apply to a college.

Our collective financial upheaval is definitively not good news, but hundreds of colleges have extended the deadline to June 1 this year for recently admitted high school seniors to commit. That leaves you a bit more time to reconsider your financial situation before your senior decides where to enroll. Think of the families who committed to a more expensive college last year, when the economy was at its height, and may have taken on debt they can no longer afford to pay back. Comparatively, you are among the fortunate.

For juniors, by the time your college application deadlines roll around next fall (those deadlines are still evolving—I’m reporting regularly to our Chill Parents’ Revolution Facebook Group. Join us!), you will have a picture of what you can afford, and you can adjust your college list accordingly. I’m going to be candid with you (because I am your ally). Colleges may need to dole out more financial aid to current students whose circumstances have changed, meaning less appealing financial aid packages for incoming students. However, now you’re aware, and you have time to think about what you’re able (and willing) to pay for college. At this time of uncertainty, at least this is one curve ball that will not be thrown your way.

4.     Where you live could positively affect your child’s college admissions opportunities.

I have heard fears leaking out of families speculating that college admission evaluators will reject student applicants from faraway states next year, so the college can preserve their “yield” rate (meaning the percentage of students who will actually enroll if admitted). Last spring after the college admissions scandal was uncovered, the popular theory was: it’s a total crapshoot for us normal students because the rich buy and cheat their way into college.

There’s always some new twist to the reason why college admission is impossible. I’ve already busted those myths in College Admissions Cracked, so I won’t get into it here. Suffice to say that if you plug your ears to the naysaying, you’ll find that wherever you live, geography could work in your child’s favor rather than against them in college admissions.

The coronavirus’ presence in our lives has made us all reconsider what’s important to us. The wanderlust that led your child to begin researching colleges far away from home may seem less attractive now that borders are closing and airplane travel comes with added health risks. Some students may feel more secure knowing that if there’s continued spread or resurgence of the virus in the fall, home is close by, making the local or state college a more tempting option for personal as well as financial reasons.

For other students, getting as far away as possible from the home where they’re cooped up now (and it’s only been a couple of weeks!) grows stronger. If your child chooses to explore college options in a different region of the country, they may find that “geographical diversity” works in their favor. Colleges are always looking to show off how many states (and countries) are represented on their campus (and always seem to be looking for more Nebraskans). Your adventurous child may have an admission advantage this fall if more of their classmates opt not to risk travel back and forth for school vacations.

5.     Admission evaluators will read your child’s application with added compassion, knowing that everyone’s floating in the same rickety boat.

Since I have evaluated thousands of college applications and participated on college admissions committees, I’m in a position to reassure you that admission evaluators are, by nature, empathetic people’s people. The compassion with which they’ve always read applications will multiply ten-fold for your child and their classmates, living through the great plague of this millennium (God willing).

Evaluators will patiently read the thousands of essays they will receive about the coronavirus’ effect on each student. (Contact me here if you want essay coaching to guide your child in a more unique direction.) Evaluators will know these kids are stressed that they’ll have fewer opportunities to boost standardized testing scores, their high school shifted awkwardly to online learning and/or pass/fail grading midway through the semester, their sports seasons and the high school musical were cancelled (not to mention prom and, at the rate things are going, commencement), and etc.

During this global pandemic, you’ve got much bigger things to worry about than how college admission evaluators will judge your child. Please listen, really listen to my very best advice, and then to gift it to your child:

When you think about where to apply to college and what to write in your application, prioritize what you want to say and do over what you think judgy admission evaluators and nosy neighbors want to hear.

Your child’s college application will turn out better. Their life will turn out better if they heed this advice. When I wrote College Admissions Cracked, I had no idea we’d need the clear roadmap through the entire process and strategies I included for maintaining calm, perspective, and laughter now more than ever. While you’re stuck at home, curl up with a heaping bowl of ice cream (or a healthy pour of cabernet), crack open my book, join the CPR Facebook Group for updates, and let’s brighten this dark moment in history with a successful college admissions journey. We are all in this together.

Warmly,

Jill

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