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Countdown to college: Navigating the admissions process during COVID-19

Lee Shulman Bierer, Tribune News Service on

Published in Education News

This is one column I really didn’t want to write.

I had hoped, like the rest of the world, that as high schools and colleges started this fall, there would be a welcome sense of “normalcy.” But as the delta variant rages and masks are making an unfortunate resurgence, things seem eerily similar to last year at this time. So, let’s talk a bit about conducting the college admissions process during these uncertain times.

Robert Franek, editor-in-chief at The Princeton Review, wrote a book about this topic: "College Admissions During COVID: How to Navigate the New Challenges in Admissions, Testing, Financial Aid, and More." The book answers more than 70 questions that students and parents have asked, such as: Will pass/fail grades hurt my GPA? What does it mean when a college is “test optional?” What kinds of extracurriculars can I do if we need to shelter-in-place again? How can I check out colleges when I can’t visit the campuses? Does it make sense to take a gap year? Will that affect my admission status or financial aid offer?

Life is in the fuzzy “unknown” stage right now, and although many people have been vaccinated, the variants still seem to be attacking at higher and higher rates. This uncertainty will once again rock the world of college admissions, affecting students, teachers, parents and college admissions offices.

The unknowns are many. Will there be fall sports? Will students be in school full-time? Masked? Will there be fall testing? Will college reps visit high schools? Will campuses be open for visitors? There are no definitive answers that are guaranteed to be the same next week or next month. Families with rising college freshmen must decide if remote college is worth the price. Is it worth $50,000 or more to have your child on Zoom all day, sequestered in his or her bedroom instead of in a college classroom, library or dorm? What’s the alternative?

Taking the year off to wait until we’re out of this holding pattern is one option, but what will students do? Travel is likely to be limited, and employment may pose unwanted risks. There are no easy answers.

According to Franek’s book, colleges are a year into the “pivot process,” and many solid creative adaptations were introduced last year that will likely carry over:

 

– Extending the academic term and adjusting their academic calendar. This would allow more students to participate in safe but smaller classes

– Making dorms less crowded by shifting students to apartments, and by making quads and triples into doubles and doubles into singles

– Varieties of hybrid learning options, including asynchronous/synchronous, learning pods, etc.

For high school juniors and seniors, here are some tips for virtual campus visits:

While an in-person visit is always preferable, technology has brought the college campus to your computer screen in a most efficient and effective way. According to Franek, “Many schools offer virtual alternatives to on-campus tours on their websites or though www.youvisit.com, which is a great way to a 'visual baseline' for a campus.”

I particularly like the virtual information sessions with Q&A sessions with admissions deans and live chats. Follow your favorite schools on social media to check out their most up-to-date plans for bringing their college to you. Vanderbilt even sets up virtual coffee meetings so prospective students can chat with current students and faculty. It's a great way to get to know a school better.

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