I don’t need to tell you the past four months have been unusual, you have lived it. We have done very few of our normal activities— including most college planning tasks.

I’m making some changes to my college planning timeline for this year. In many cases my usual advice does not apply.

Visiting Colleges

You cannot make personal visits to most colleges right now, so my usual advice doesn’t apply.

I still strongly encourage all high school students, especially those entering 11th grade, to take time this summer to learn about different schools.

Instead of planning an in-person visit to the campus, you can

  • Develop an in-progress list of schools that interest you. I find the college search feature on the College Board website makes it easy to sort and search according to different criteria.
  • Start researching overall statistics (% of students admitted, average ACT/SAT scores, % of students admitted by rank). If you are already using the College Board search from the first step, you can find these numbers under the “apply” tab for each school.
  • Spend 30+ minutes on the school’s website. Read about academic programs, campus life, scholarships, how to apply, and more.
  • Take a virtual tour. Some schools are promoting virtual visits on their social media platforms. You can find official (and unofficial) tours if you search YouTube. The goal is to do your best to replace a traditional visit.

BONUS: This is for the high achievers in the college visit category. Some colleges traditionally offer summer workshops, fly-in visits, intensive weekends, and other hands on opportunities for students to get to know the campus. Schools are working on virtual versions. Here is a great discussion if you want to know more: [click here]

When Juniors Should Take the ACT/SAT

My usual advice is for students to pick any time during 11th grade to take (and even retake) their test of choice. Often the decision revolves around when a student has most time (spring sport athletes test in the fall; the band, football, dance, and cheer teams wait until fall season ends and often test in the spring.) Usually I will have a number of juniors studying for early fall tests.

This year I am suggesting juniors wait.

Wait until the craziness subsides. Wait until schools and testing centers have guidelines in place. Wait until community spread of COVID-19 in your area drops. Wait until it is easy to register for your test date and choice of location.

This may mean a majority of the junior class takes the SAT and ACT in the spring. This year, that may be the best option. (Last year testing in the fall turned out to be best because everything got canceled in the spring.)

When Seniors Should Submit College Applications

Every year we see a mad scramble when college applications open. In recent years, Texas A&M has opened application season on July 1 (Ugh! Can you really get a transcript from your high school in July?!!!) This year A&M has delayed until the traditional August 1 when other colleges and universities begin accepting applications.

You do not need to rush to apply in August.

My regular advice is to get applications done early enough that they aren’t hanging over your head, but not in such a rush that you make careless errors. (If you have a senior, I strongly suggest you read this [https://www.collegeprepresults.com/college-applications-early-is-good-but-good-is-better/].)

My adjusted advice this year— know your deadlines and take the time you need. If you know a strong ACT/SAT score will help your application, wait until you can take the exam. If you need extra time to write quality essays or finalize your college list, take the time you need. Now more than ever, you do not need to be in a hurry. Of course, don’t miss deadlines, but don’t feel you need to rush.

Here are some deadlines for schools in my area. (It is possible that colleges will extend these depending on what happens this fall.)

  • UT Austin— Nov 1 (priority) & Dec 1 (regular)
  • Texas A&M — Dec 1 (early action for engineering— Oct 15)
  • Texas Tech — Dec 1 (priority)
  • Texas State— March 1
  • Univ. of Houston— Nov 15 (scholarship priority) & they are still accepting application for start this fall
  • Univ. North Texas— still accepting applications for start this fall

How Many Schools to Keep on Your List

Usually I advise students to apply to 5-8 schools with at least one they are certain they can get into and afford. Students applying to highly competitive schools might add a few more, but I start to question when a student applies to more than 10-12 schools.

This year I’m adjusting my advice. Because families have been unable to make campus visits, you may decide to apply to a few more schools than usual. It might be wise to add a few alternatives to allow for more choices close to home or with potential for scholarships or in-state tuition.

My only caution with this new advice is that anytime you apply to more than 10 schools the cost and time involved can create a burden. Discuss this as a family.

Students who want to apply to more than 12 schools, especially schools requiring supplemental essays and short answers, should prioritize their choices. Send applications to your affordable and assured admissions choices first. Then work from the top of your list down. It has been my experience that somewhere around the 12th application, students get tired of writing essays. One client told me, “I guess I don’t want to go to Columbia bad enough to write these extra essays.” (Decision made!) We just don’t want students running out of energy before the essential applications are submitted.

Should We Change Schools or Homeschool?

No one will give it a second though if your family decides to make dramatic changes in your school situation this fall.

Usually I advise clients to look at the academic opportunities and factor in other personal considerations (better environment, greater extracurricular opportunities, etc.) This fall there might be only one criteria— where do you feel comfortable.

You might choose an option presented by your local high school. You can find numerous online options or you could create your own homeschool curriculum.

My only tip is to keep good notes for whatever you choose. Print the paperwork if you take a course through a different provider. List all your readings and activities if you are creating your own homeschool curriculum. Be ready to explain what you learned and how. You will not have to explain why you made a change.

Everything is different this year. That doesn’t mean you stop planning for the future, but it does mean you need to make some changes to the traditional college planning timeline and approach.