College admissions these days is a completely new ballgame, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts. Where colleges typically rely on test scores, academic reports, and extracurricular activities that depict involvement, their focus must shift to a more person-based application review. How will this affect applicants, and how can you adequately prepare your applications to highlight who you are? Let’s have some fun.
Testing – SAT & ACT
Over one hundred colleges and universities made testing optional for the 2020-2021 application season and have carried that into the 2021-2022 application season. While there are some test times being offered for the SAT and ACT, they are more limited, and colleges are aware of the difficulties the COVID-19 situation pose in terms of access and availability. Test optional allows applicants to submit their applications without including any standardized test scores, which may seem great for those applying during an already stressful time. This does, however, mean you need to ensure the rest of your application is a strong representation of who you are as a student and an individual.
Extracurricular activities for high school students are important for a variety of reasons. However, in the wake of a pandemic, the options and ability to participate in extracurricular activities are greatly minimized. Common activities like band, debate, athletics, and drama are not available in the same way they usually are. However, it is not impossible for high school students to participate in extracurricular activities. While it might be slightly more difficult than usual, there are some creative ways to make it work.
Virtual seems to be the way of things these days, so why should extracurricular activities be any different? Some schools are offering after-school club sports on a virtual platform. Other websites and companies have coding classes available so students can fine-tune their tech skills. Music lessons have also gone virtual, so students don’t need to give up their passion and talent. Look for opportunities that interest you and see what might be available. You might even discover something that you never had time to do before!
Create your own opportunities
If there isn’t something available to you, create your own opportunity. This will not only fulfill your desire but will impress colleges and universities. If you love art, consider starting an online business to sell your work, or teach after-school online art classes to kids or individuals. Use your talents and passions to create opportunities that might not exist.
Community service is also an extracurricular activity, and there is plenty of room for it today. Maybe you create a mask drive or school supply drive for children in your area who might not have access to the supplies they need. Collect cans of food for families who are struggling to make ends meet and put food on their table each night during this pandemic. Plan an environmental clean-up in your area that allows you to get together with a small group of friends, practice safe social distancing, and still put service into action. Consider needs in your area or in the greater community. Discover what calls to you, and make it happen.
Never has the college essay been more important. This is your opportunity to share with the committee who you are and what they might miss in the rest of your application. It is important you do not fall into the trap of generic responses. Really take the time to let your voice come through! I highly advise having someone look over your essays prior to submitting them to be sure you are sharing what you think you are with the committee. The college committees do not know you, but your goal is to help them understand who you are and what you can bring to their school. As long as you are honest, thorough, and reflective, there are many different approaches you can take with your essays.
If the colleges to which you are applying offer virtual interviews, participate! Again, college committees are working with much less information than they are used to. They cannot rely simply on test scores, grades and extracurricular activities typically found when reviewing applications. It is up to you to advocate for yourself and fill in as many of the gaps as possible. Working through various exercises and mock interviews will help you familiarize yourself with those important aspects that make you special and unique! Interviewing via Zoom is also a skill, so practicing with someone to nail it could help push you over the edge.
Wrapping it all up
This is a different time for college applicants, but it’s also exciting! This is your chance to show college committees who you are as an individual, not just a test score or grade report. It might take some extra time to make your admissions applications really shine, so don’t put it off. Now is the time to start planning and get the ball rolling. Colleges will be looking at a variety of aspects as they review applications and resumes. Resilience and adaptability are major components that college admission teams look for in their applicants, and this year has provided an opportunity to truly demonstrate grit. Take advantage of all you can and make the most of the situation. Your efforts will shine through in applications and demonstrate not just the type of student you are, but the type of person.