Plan for College (Don’t Panic)– What You Should Do Now

No One Knows The honest truth is no one knows. No one knows how long this will go on or when we will return to normal. We don’t know when the next SAT or ACT will be given or what colleges will do about admissions requirements and deadlines. In the absence of facts, people are starting to speculate. Some of these conjectures are extreme and scary. But remember, fear sells. Shocking news gets more traction (shares, clicks, etc.) than telling you we just don’t know. The process of college admissions is stressful enough in a regular year, all these theories are making it worse, particularly if you tend towards anxiety. My solution has been to tune out. I’ll wait until we have solid information, then make a plan.

What We Do Know

We don’t know details, but we do know that colleges will work with students. They understand. Colleges know that students have missed opportunities, can’t take or retake standardized tests, are working under unusual learning conditions this spring, and are worried about the future. Admissions officers have always been good at evaluating students based on their circumstances (i.e. not penalizing the student who attended a small school with no AP classes or expecting the same extracurricular resume from a student who had to work to help her family pay rent.) Current high school students will find their college applications judged with the current COVID-19 restrictions in mind. We do know that ACT and College Board are eager to get student taking ACT and SAT exams as soon as it is safe to do so. Expect added test dates and the possibility of exams given during the school day. Most people forget that colleges and test corporations are businesses too. Just like my hair salon or neighborhood restaurants are hurting during this time, College Board, ACT, and schools are hurting too. They definitely want to get back to business as soon as they can. (And this is why College Board is thinking about how to sell you SAT exams from home if you can’t take them on a Saturday morning at school; they miss the revenue!)

What You Should Do Now

While we work through the uncertainties of this time, there are things you should do.

1. Prioritize mental health / sanity.

For many this means less news. Stop reading speculative articles. Don’t worry. Things may be different, but colleges still want students as much as students want to get out of the house and head off to college. If you find yourself overly anxious or depressed, reach out to a professional. I know school counselors are working to meet student needs and local therapists are working by phone / video. This is definitely a “put your oxygen mask on first” situation. No other college prep factors will make a difference if you don’t take care of yourself first. (Parents and students!)

2. Work towards your goals in a manageable way.

I know we joke that colleges want to admit only the kids who have already cured cancer. It seems like the standards are already unattainably high. I want to encourage you to continue to work towards your goals– academic, extracurricular, personal, and social goals. Even though it feels like someone has pushed the pause button on our lives, don’t stop everything you had been doing before. Yes, this might feel like a great excuse to sit on the couch and eat ice cream, but I still need to limit my carbs and go walking! Find ways to keep moving towards your goals in ways that allow you to follow social distancing recommendations and maintain your mental health.

3. Remember your high school transcript has always been the #1 factor in admission.

Every time I speak on the topic of preparing for college admission, I stress this fact. It is easy to get caught up in test scores or extracurricular activities, but the list of grades and classes taken has always been the most important element of a student’s application. Your high school transcript reflects years of effort and achievement— not a single day or semester. This means students should keep up with learning, assignments, and grades this spring. Do your best: don’t panic, but don’t slack either. I’ve heard from some students who were working to bring up grades and class rank this spring. Depending on what your school or district decides, that may not happen. But you will have an opportunity to show progress or improvement, so don’t give up.

4. Continue to follow traditional college planning advice modified for the times.

The basic principles have not changed: earn the best grades possible, take challenging classes, work to develop your talents, strengths, and interests. Activities, camps, and test dates may be canceled, but students should continue to practice and plan for the future. Take some time at home to research colleges. A professional colleague of mine has compiled an impressive list of virtual tour and visit resources you can access it here. Take the extra time to see how colleges on your list have responded to the coronavirus situation. (My daughter still sees her professors on the same schedule she had classes before and the pro-rated refund for housing, meal plan, parking, and activities has been in my bank account for a couple weeks.) Seeing how schools treat their current students will give you a sneak preview of what to expect. This summer rising seniors should write essays. I will be back with more essay tips in future articles.

5. Continue to develop talents, interests, and strengths.

I could have mentioned this under the point above, but it is too important. This is the perfect time for students to explore. Not all activities can be done from home, but students can be creative and find new ways to pursue their passions. This week a friend mentioned her son finally has time to work on animation and teach himself guitar. Both of my kids have been watching lectures on psychology and brain science topics. With everything else put on hold, now may be the perfect time to try new things or learn more about potential majors. I honestly believe this will help define so many students. There is still time for Netflix and gaming, but what else was important enough to prioritize? And don’t limit yourself to what normally feels productive or achievement oriented. Were you the person reaching out to check on your friends or neighbors? Did you discover a love of baking? Did you finally read those books you have been piling up? Did you take time to help your little brother with his schoolwork? It comes down to the classic “What did you do when no one made you?” Don’t worry if you don’t have the mental energy to take on new tasks, but look for ways to share your talents with others and explore topics of interest.


Give yourself permission to unplug from the news (and from worry about college planning.) Keep working towards your goals in a manageable way and know that colleges will be looking to support students through this process. (They want you as much as you want them!) Take care!]]>

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