What do you do when everything changes right in the middle of your high school junior year?
This is the year that you have been told should have “the highest-intensity academic and extracurricular moments of most of your entire high school experience”. Now, you are taking AP tests at home, your SAT and ACT test dates were canceled (but most colleges are changing their test requirements anyway), your summer camp job, sports tournaments and theater performances have been canceled, and you can’t tour colleges until…no one knows?!
The good news is that the class of 2021 still has a few months before their college applications are due and there is a lot you CAN do to reduce anxiety and ensure you will have good options next spring.
Start by contacting me at Conejo College Consulting to specifically discuss your college plans and how those plans will be impacted by all the changes happening now.
In the meantime, here are some ways to increase opportunities (and reduce your anxiety!) as you begin to apply to colleges and universities:
Finish your junior year strong. Don’t worry about whether you will be getting a letter grade or pass/no pass notation. Colleges know that there were unusual circumstances during the spring semester of 2020.
Here is some clarification from the University of California Admissions website: “The temporary suspension of the letter grade requirement for A-G courses applies to all A-G coursework completed in spring and summer 2020, including coursework completed by students currently in 9th, 10th, and 11th grades. The Pass or Credit grade in spring and summer 2020 will continue to meet A-G requirements for any student currently enrolled in high school during the 2019-20 academic year … If your high school allows different grading options for different courses, you can choose the grading option that you feel is most beneficial for each course. Keep in mind that Pass grades will not be included in the GPA calculation, nor will they receive an extra point in the GPA if they are approved honors, AP or IB courses. However, UC-approved honors courses, including AP and IB, will be included in the honors course tallies, ensuring students are considered in comprehensive review as taking a challenging curriculum”.
The bottom line is, regardless of the grading system your high school will use, make sure you learn material that you will need for subsequent classes, especially subjects that are relevant to your future career goals.
Speaking about your career goals, explore colleges and their majors to see what interests you. Look at the required coursework, and options or tracks within a major. Take virtual tours to get a general feel for colleges. If possible, register for these virtual tours since schools that track “demonstrated interest” may look at virtual information session registration as a way to gauge students’ interest.
Since many colleges will not be requiring standardized tests, your college essay, and your list of activities is going to be more important! Brainstorm ideas for your common application essay. See if there are supplemental essays for colleges that interest you. Next year, the Common App essay prompts will remain the same, but you will have a chance to address, using a maximum of 250 words, how the pandemic impacted you, both personally and academically. This is an option to consider if you have “effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces” and you want to share how those events impacted you. Also, look at the prompts for the University of California’s personal insight questions. These will remain the same as last year.
Admissions officers understand that most extracurricular activities have been suspended for everyone. While these interruptions will not be held against applicants, you can shine and get ahead of the crowd by getting creative! Look for extracurricular opportunities that you can do from home and that are rewarding to you and tied to your passions or career goals. For example, work on a piece of artwork, write a story or publish an article, hone your musical skills, build an app, look for virtual volunteer opportunities such as Invisible Hands. This is a chance to show the people who make admissions decisions that you are innovative!
Consider the standardized testing policies of schools that interest you. These are changing daily so look at each school’s website to ensure you have current information. Many, including all schools in the Cal State and UC system, are going to be test-optional for next year. If you have taken the SAT or ACT, evaluate your score to determine if you want to report it to colleges that are “test optional”. If you are taking AP exams, do your best, but know that the colleges may change the way they offer credit.
So, continue to wash your hands, stay six feet away from your friends, stay healthy mentally and physically. But as you begin applying to colleges, be flexible and open to new opportunities! As a former admissions officer at Yale put it, “the coronavirus crisis is leveling the playing field, and it’s a chance for the most creative and independent students to shine”. Shine brightly Class of 2021!
Beverly Brutzkus – May 18, 2020