A glimpse at how the coronavirus might impact the college admissions process.

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The college admissions process will be different this fall. COVID-19 has changed the dynamics of how and what students learn, as well as disrupted extra-curricular activities, the SAT and ACT, college visits and more.

The impact of all this upheaval will affect the upcoming college admissions season for every family as teenagers try to figure out where to apply and if they have enough materials to show they deserve acceptance to their top choice schools.

With all of this in mind, here’s a glimpse of what it might look like to apply to college in fall 2020. Nothing here is certain, but reading, listening to and watching updates on the current situation have helped me feel secure in the predictions I’m sharing.

The SAT and ACT With the College Board cancelling their spring SAT, the first chance many current high school juniors will have to take the test is in August as they begin their senior year. If schools are still closed in the fall, the College Board will administer a digital SAT for students to take at home. Seniors hoping to take the exam twice before applying Early Decision or Early Action will put themselves right up against those mid-October to mid-November deadlines.

The June 13 ACT is still scheduled for those test centers that are cleared to administer the exam on that day. During the week of May 26, ACT will inform students which test centers are open for the June 13 exam and where the test has been cancelled. The next ACT after that is July 18. If both or either of these exam dates hold, seniors will have an easier time taking two exams by their application deadlines.

Aware of the uncertainty in the admission of the SAT and ACT, many colleges are going test-optional for 2020-2021, meaning students aren’t required to take either test for admission. You can find a continually updated list of test-optional colleges at FairTest.

High School Grades With so many schools closed and classrooms moved online, high schools, and colleges, recognize the difficult transition this has been for students, particularly the inequities to access and level of teaching. With that in mind, some high schools are making grades Pass/Fail instead of a number or letter.  Others aren’t factoring third and fourth quarter grades into a student’s overall GPA.

In those cases, colleges will take a closer look at senior year grades from the first and second quarter, as well as the previous years of high school. Colleges may accept “unofficial” transcripts, where spring grades are reported even if they’re not included in GPA. This helps some students and will hurt others, unfortunately.

The essay A lot of seniors will write about the coronavirus for their application essay. Colleges expect it. As an essay coach, I won’t discourage it. What I advise students to do is make their story their own.

Coronavirus has impacted each of us in a unique way. Applicants should concentrate on their personal experience and write from that perspective, focusing on how living in a COVID-19 world has made them grow as a person and/or prepared them for college. They can do this by examining how their role changed in their family, or among their friends. Was there a way in which they stepped up and took on more responsibility or led the way through this for others? They can look at how they dealt with limited contact with people outside of their home. Or how they managed their academic challenges.

There are so many areas to cover—technology, family relations, economics, friendships, school, loss, grief, creativity, illness, recovery, among others. By keeping notes of their experiences now, students can remember what happened and how they felt when they’re ready to start writing.

Extra-curricular activities For many rising seniors, their applications will have a hole where their spring activities should have been, particularly for those who participate in sports, the arts and community service programs. For some, they will lose leadership opportunities. Colleges know about this loss, too. By looking at what counts as an extra-curricular activity and finding creative ways to engage in spring activities in this isolation/quarantine environment, students can round out the activity portion of their application.

Admissions Visitor

College visits With in-person tours on hold for the foreseeable future, your student’s missing an important piece in evaluating a college. Thankfully colleges are working hard to develop virtual tours that give students more than just a glimpse of the campus. Recorded guided tours with current students are common, as are live virtual tours, and even one-on-one sessions with a current student, professor, alumnus and/or admissions officer. Students should take advantage of these opportunities to learn more about the colleges they’re interested in.

Financial aid Most colleges start with the FAFSA when determining a student’s need for financial aid. For fall applicants, the financial information their family will need to provide is based on the parents’ and student’s 2019 income taxes. For many families, that information isn’t an accurate depiction of their finances for 2020. For parents or students who lost their jobs, answer “Yes” to the question about whether you are a “dislocated worker.” It helps to contact a college directly if there isn’t a place on the form to clearly explain your family’s current economic situation.

Recommendation letters With spring grades not factoring into a student’s GPA and extra-curriculars cut short, letters of recommendation from teachers, guidance counselors and coaches will take a larger role in the college admissions process. Colleges that normally required one recommendation letter from a teacher and one from a guidance counselor may now ask for or allow more. They may also suggest students include a letter from a coach or activity adviser. These letters will carry more influence than they did in the past and help students who did some of their best work in their junior year.

AP Exams Despite the shortened version of this year’s digital AP tests, several colleges and most state college systems will give students college credit for AP scores of 3, 4 or 5. The reasoning is that students did the work in their AP class for the majority of the school year and that effort deserves recognition.

College fairs In this social-distancing environment, college fairs likely don’t meet safety guidelines. Expect fewer opportunities to meet with college representatives one-on-one at your own or a nearby high school.

I don’t have a crystal ball to know for sure what college admissions will look like in the fall of 2020, but I think what I’ve covered here can help you and your student prepare for application season.