Preparing for College: A Teen Guide to Getting Colleges to Want You
By Ann K. Dolin
The pandemic presented challenges for every person. But, it’s difficult to wrap our heads around the obstacles students faced. Schools completely closed, some re-opened, others were virtual, others operated in a hybrid environment, and many changed their learning platform several times.
Nearly all of the activities that kids expected to participate in were heavily modified or postponed altogether. It will likely be years before we truly understand the impact the pandemic had on learning. Despite all of the problems, students and teachers pushed forward.
Now, as the world re-opens, many teens are preparing for their final year of high school or gearing up for the first semester of their freshman year in the fall. Schools are returning to “normal” class schedules and activities, but COVID has left a permanent mark on the college experience. Many colleges and universities are waving standardized test requirements, which have been a staple of the admissions process for decades.
Last year, when many colleges moved to online learning, a significant number of students decided to take a gap year. Now, many of them are planning to enroll, creating more competition. Preparation for college is critical and now, more emphasis is placed on essay writing. Mock testing is still a major part of getting ready for college, especially if a child can score well on exams.
Mapping Out the Road to College
• Begin early on. Because campuses closed, many improved or added opportunities to engage remotely. Teens can take advantage of these resources to start their research now, touring virtually and watching information sessions from the convenience of their computer screen. When exploring narrow down which colleges you will actually want to visit in person. Many students this past year were making their final school choice sight unseen. Some advanced planning for current juniors could help them avoid this fate should closings happen again.
• Test anyway. Many schools, even top universities, have moved to test-optional applications, meaning they will not require a standardized test score on an application. This trend began before the pandemic but is accelerated by many students’ difficult learning environments. Recently, the University of North Carolina voted to extend their test-optional requirements into 2022, so it appears many schools will keep this policy in place, at least temporarily. Despite the shift away from testing, students should still submit good scores to enhance the application. Some colleges could even demand it, so check! If you are seeking Merit funds, you’ll need good test scores. Further, mock tests can also be a simulation for college testing environments. Most high school kids do not sit through a timed test in the classroom. Putting them through a timed scenario will better equip them for test-taking at a collegiate level.
• Examine 2021 and learn from others. Seniors who walked away happy, created good lists of eight to 12 schools with more safeties and matches than reaches. They didn’t waste an early advantage on an extreme reach. They didn’t send out a lot of extra applications “just to see.” They didn’t assume that simply eliminating weaker test scores automatically made them more competitive. They didn’t add any last-minute applications.
• Slow and steady could win the race. Students who left their applications to the last minute, started essays a week before they were due, or added schools to their lists days before the deadline ended up with the fewest options. Whereas, those who made time to perfect their essay, completed their applications in early fall and hit early deadlines fared the best. This is a good strategy regardless of there is or isn’t a pandemic going on.
• Apply early. Early decision (ED) can offer an advantage, especially at a reach school, but it is not an option for anyone who doesn’t have a true favorite or needs to compare financial aid packages. Consider Restrictive Early Action (REA), which only allows additional early action applications at other public or international institutions. Neither are useful if not used strategically. If you can do ED or REA, utilize that perk at a school where you are fundamentally competitive from an academic and extracurricular perspective, rather than wasting it at a reach where you secretly hope ED or REA will make you that way, because they won’t.
Don’t forget about the remaining early options, including early action, priority, and rolling. Take advantage of all the early action and priority deadlines available to you at the colleges on your list. Doing that indicates that you are truly interested, offers schools extra time to read your applications, can often qualify you for merit scholarships, and gets you in the door before the mad rush of regular decision applications comes pouring in. Plus, the longer you wait on rolling decision schools, the more available slots will fill up with all of the other applicants.
Simply preparing for college is a load of work. Teens have application deadlines, scholarship requirements to meet, campus visits, and interviews. On top of everything, parents are still working, and their kids most likely have many other activities outside of school (which is a good thing for the college application!). So if you need to seek outside help to help your teen manage it all, the experts at ectutoring.com can help. #
Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections, Inc. and author of Homework Made Simple. For more info, visit ectutoring.c