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COVID-19 and College Admissions by Pam Ohno

The coronavirus has upended life for everyone, including high school students. On top of transitioning to remote learning and missing time spent with friends because of social distancing, juniors are preparing for the college admissions process, which is just around the corner. It’s a stressful time, no doubt. However, the best advice for high school students can be summarized in three words:


Admissions offices have always been understanding of difficult circumstances and will consider the impact of COVID-19. What follows is some advice and wisdom to help students over the next few months. Please keep in mind that every college is different, and the pandemic makes every situation fluid. Be flexible and patient.

High School Remote Classes and Grades – Many high schools have announced that they will implement a “pass/fail” or similar type of grading system for the second semester. This change will not hurt or help anyone because colleges evaluate transcripts within the context of the high school first. Stay engaged in your classes and work hard to achieve. If you are having trouble with the material, reach out to your teacher, read online tutorials, form a virtual study group or enlist a tutor. You should learn the material to be better prepared for upcoming high school and college material in subsequent years. Basically, do not take your foot off the gas. You can still excel academically in a virtual learning environment. 

AP Tests –The 2019–20 AP exam administration will consist of 45-minute online exams taken at home. There will be 2 different testing dates for each AP subject. Colleges continue to evaluate how they will award credit for AP test scores.

ACT And SAT Tests – The College Board recently canceled the June SAT but will offer a test every month through the end of the calendar year STARTING IN AUGUST. In the unlikely event that schools do not reopen in the fall, the College Board will provide an online version of the SAT that students can take at home. The ACT has not yet made an announcement on its June test, but you can use your reading comprehension skills to INFER that they will likely cancel that sitting as well. Remember that test administrators do not control when schools open. 

Everyone is in the same boat, with some students not ever having tested and others hoping to improve their scores. Students should feel confident that appropriate accommodations will be made. The good news is that the list of test-optional schools for at least the Class of 2021 continues to grow and now includes Tufts, Amherst, Williams, Davidson, Boston University, and the entire University of California system. Expect more schools to offer test-optional admissions over the next few months.

Extracurricular and Summer Activities – Like the rest of life, extracurricular activities are on hold for everyone. But you should still engage as best you can in the world around you. Active learners (who colleges adore!) will find ways to use this time for growth and self-expression. Think about how you might expand on any academic or intellectual interests and DO SOMETHING (safely, of course). Work on a hobby or develop a new skill. Some ideas include:

  • READ MORE! The New York Times is offering free online subscriptions to high school students for three months starting April 6. Sign up now!
  • Learn a new language – Duolingo is free and offers Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, and Japanese!
  • Learn to cook – want to know how to make the perfect omelet or sauté salmon to perfection? YouTube can help! Cook dinner once a week for your family! Clean up after you finish and your parents will love you even more.
  • Start a phone group to call senior citizens. 
  • Learn to code. Check out MIT’s OpenCourseWare – it’s free also!
  • Plant a victory garden. Google it – learn about biology and history at the same time!
  • Interested in engineering? Create a Rube Goldberg device (Google this one too!)

Colleges love students who creatively figure out how to learn and grow with limited resources. One thing is for sure, you can start on your college applications and essays!

Financial Aid – The federal government and most colleges use prior-prior year (PPY) tax information to calculate financial aid. Colleges are currently working through appeals for adjustments to aid packages for the Class of 2020, which were based on 2018 tax returns and did not take into account any loss of income due to the coronavirus. Each college handles changes to a family’s financial situation on a case-by-case basis. 

Have Perspective – Remember that in underserved areas, students may not have access to the internet or the necessary technology to access remote learning. Job loss and food insecurity have surged in recent weeks. Your peers may be looking for work or working to help support their families. Be conscious and respectful when you post on social media. Yes, this sucks for everyone, but it really sucks for those who were struggling even before the COVID-19 pandemic. Count your blessings. 

Rest assured that college admissions offices will remain student-centered. They are making accommodations and will continue to do so to allow for a fair and reasonable application process. Your job is to control what you CAN control and take advantage of any extra time you may have to learn and grow. For now, focus on a strong finish to your academic year, practice social distancing, and stay healthy!

**Editor’s Note: We have used the services offered by The College Planning Partners and highly recommend them. Pam Ohno and partner Catherine Snowden offer thoughtful guidance throughout the entire process and help students reach their personal goals. For more, check out The College Planning Partners.


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