Navigating the New Normal of College Admissions

College admissions is more competitive and different than ever before. Choosing the right college in a pandemic is challenging, but with extra care and diligence, high school seniors can find the right fit.

College admissions officers understand that this new normal is far from normal. Harvard University published a resource for colleges about endorsing care in this crisis. For students applying to college this fall and early winter, enter into this important process knowing that colleges understand what you have been going through. You may not have had the type of summer experiences in 2020 that, in any other year, would’ve helped set you apart. Likewise, prospective college athletes may or may not have had seasons to be showcased.

There are tips to help you navigate this new world and find the right college fit.

College Visits During COVID-19

Many colleges and universities don’t allow the traditional campus visit, overnight stay, or in-person interview right now. Some do, though, so be sure to check the college’s website (and the state’s pandemic travel restrictions, if any). 

Presentation High School’s college counseling program works with each student and her family throughout the college application process. “Setting foot on a college campus is not the only way to get ‘the feeling’ one gets when they’ve made the right college match,” says Presentation’s college counseling office. 

Presentation encourages students to use a college’s online resources (website, social media, any virtual admissions programming, etc.) to make more meaningful college choices this fall:

  • Follow colleges on social media to hear the voice of the student body. With halts on in-person tours and information sessions, engaging with social media accounts are the best peek into what college life is like at the schools you are considering. Pay attention to any updates they post pertaining to the application process or virtual admissions events. Email the admissions office your questions to establish a connection. 
  • How has the college responded to the pandemic? How have they supported students through this difficult time?
  • How has the pandemic changed you? If so, this could mean your college priorities have changed as well.
  • Have your academic interests changed this summer?
  • What are your personal values? Does the school’s mission and values align with yours?

To find out more about what college is the best for each student, consider visiting websites like Niche, which give insight on college admissions and rank colleges on different scales such as location, housing, safety, and more.  

As you look online at colleges, consider what type of environment you want: urban or rural? Large or smaller? Does it offer the program you ultimately want to study? What you do outside of class is a very important part of the college experience. Be sure to check out the activities and opportunities to see if they are a fit.

Engaging With College Representatives Online

Presentation’s college counseling office offers some great advice to students meeting college representatives in virtual settings. Your visit may not have the formal setting of your high school’s conference room or a college’s admissions office, but don’t treat the virtual visit informally.  

  • Keep in mind that college representatives are monitoring student engagement in these virtual spaces. And take a look at your background when you are on a video conference. Does it reflect you at your best or does the college representative see your messy bedroom?
  • Do your homework and familiarize yourself with the college before entering the virtual space.
  • Be prompt and fully present. Keep in mind that college visits are for students only. And don’t check your phone during the call.
  • Come prepared with questions.
  • Use the chat function to responsibly engage with the college representative.
  • Treat the visit like a “meet and greet.” It’s nice to keep your video on so you can personalize your interaction. Mute yourself when you aren’t speaking.
  • If you are in a group chat and need to leave early, depart quietly. Also, don’t dominate the conversation. Be respectful and allow other students to ask questions.
  • Send an email thank-you to the representative for the virtual visit.

College Admissions Preparation 

Be sure that you are using your school’s college counselors as a resource. They know what differentiates the colleges, which programs are strong, etc. Now, more than ever, applicants need the insight college counselors have.  

While some applications require a recommendation from college counselors, it is advantageous for students to build a relationship with their counselor to receive high praise in their letter.

Start meeting with your counselor early. Fall of senior year should not be the first meeting. Most private schools have a college search calendar for families to follow. In 2020, it is especially important to check testing dates and application deadlines, as the traditional format may have changed this year. 

The pandemic has altered many family’s finances. Have an honest conversation with your college counselor about paying for college and financial aid options. Your counselor can offer advice on how to have conversations with college financial aid offices as well. Colleges offer financial aid packages and scholarships based on merit and need. Students can apply to independently based scholarships.

Recognition for Academic Achievement

Regardless of the current pandemic, undergraduate admissions processes continue to be competitive. Students with private education have been shown to succeed in college courses early on. College admissions officers are familiar with high schools that are nationally recognized for producing high-achieving students. While not a guarantee -- college acceptance, of course, is based on the individual student’s merit -- enrolling in a high school known for academic success increases your child’s access to opportunities and resources that colleges look for in well-prepared applicants who are ready to embrace all that a college or university offers.

Advanced Placement courses and the International Baccalaureate program allow students to have access to college level classes before stepping on a college campus. Taking these courses throughout high school allow students to build knowledge across subjects in humanities and STEM, while also showing colleges they are ready for college-level work. 

Some high schools may offer dual enrollment classes, where students are able to take courses at local colleges. While you may not be able to apply these credits to four-year colleges and universities, it still will show on college applications that students are taking initiative and challenging coursework. Talk to your school’s academic dean to find out what is possible. Find out which classes will best prepare each student for college and how to get credit for successful exam scores. 

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