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Giving Tuesday: Update #7

Since March, when Covid struck, “I can’t believe” has become a common refrain. Well, I can’t believe it’s been seven months, since I’ve shared an update. I apologize. At the height of the first wave, I was quite proud of myself for staying on top of everything and not succumbing to Zoom-fatigue, but alas it caught up with me toward the end of the summer as I headed into the height of application season. Good news: I’m back! In the spirit of Giving Tuesday, I will be giving you more consistent updates and tidbits for navigating the admission process.


It’s December! Hopefully you had a meaningful Thanksgiving and didn’t eat an entire pie, like me. In my defense it was apple, and I didn’t eat the crust, so that counts as fruit, right?!?! Just be glad I’m responsible for college applications and not diet guidance! See, I told you I was back, in all of my “I process everything out loud” glory!!


December means that high school seniors, in addition to being anxious about receiving decisions, are starting to check-out and wondering how important their senior grades really are. Juniors and their parents are getting more anxious because their turn at this application process is fast approaching and there are still so many unknowns about how Covid will impact their options. Sophomores are starting to wonder whether they should be doing more to plan for college (yes!) but aren’t sure how. Freshmen are still adapting to high school and their schedules which seem to be changing every week. Those are super broad strokes. Here are some more specific things that each of you should have on your radar.

Seniors: Yes, senior grades count. If you’ve applied somewhere under an Early Decision plan, they may want to see your first quarter grades. If you’re applying Regular Decision, colleges WILL want to see your mid-year grades. They matter. And this year, they matter even more. Colleges want to see how you’ve recovered from the disruptions of the Spring as well as how well you’ve maintained rigor and grades. If your ED or EA application is deferred for RD consideration, presenting a strong transcript will be important.

If you’ve already submitted all of your application, CONGRATULATIONS!!! If you haven’t, it’s OK. BUT, set yourself a goal, ideally something like December 23. Being finished is a fantastic holiday gift to give yourself. It’s also super important for you to have some downtime and be able to enjoy your Winter Break. School and independent counselors around the country have observed that students are taking much longer than usual to complete tasks. Parents, this is important for you to keep in mind! All of us have been in a fog since March; it’s especially hard on teenagers. Cut them some slack. I promise they are just as focused on their future as you are—it just presents in different ways, most of which don’t look how you think they should.


Once you’ve submitted applications, be sure to stay on top of your portals and track any missing information. Remember, even though everything is electronic, it can take up to two weeks for documents to be processed and posted to your applicant portal. Don’t harass your school counselor if you see something is missing. Give it time. If you see in your Common App (on the FERPA and Recommenders tab in the My Colleges section) that your school report was submitted or downloaded, your counselor did it—it just hasn’t been posted yet.


Juniors: Spring of junior year is typically when college stress starts to creep into you lives. Don’t let it. Be proactive rather than reactive. If you set small goals for yourself you can ease into your application cycle. In an ideal world, by June you’d have a list of schools and testing would be behind you. But, how can you build a list when you can’t visit schools? And how can you be finished with testing when dates continue to be cancelled and you’re not even sure if colleges will care about your scores??


Yes, it’s difficult to get a feel for a college without walking the campus and observing and engaging with students. But, until the world re-opens, we have to make the most of what’s available. As you consider the virtual visit options for each school, try to find things that are student centered rather than just a presentation about admissions. Syracuse and Rutgers, among others, present different student perspectives. Most schools also have YouTube channels, some of which give you a taste of life in different majors. I know it’s not fun to click through everything, but the more research you do, the better your list will be and the easier it will be for you to answer the “why school” essay question. Try to map out a list of places you’d like to visit. Some schools are doing in-person tours. So, make that list and plan your “visits” whether they’re virtual or live. Don’t wait for a random afternoon when the mood might strike you. Put dates on your calendar as if you were actually hopping in the car to get to campus.


Is testing really still important? Yes! The goal of this process is to keep as many options on the table for as long as possible. While the vast majority of colleges and universities are currently test-optional, most of them committed to it for only one year. While I expect that to change—I think many schools will remain test optional for at least another year—we don’t know for sure that they will. So, you should be prepared. That doesn’t mean rearranging your life and overspending on test prep—it means we can work together to create a testing plan that works for you so you have choices.

Prioritize these two things for now, we’ll tackle leadership and letters of recommendation next week.


Sophomores: At least you got to start high school in person, right?! Focus on the positive! I get a lot of calls from parents of sophomores who feel like they should apologize for “starting so early.” They have nothing to apologize for—in college planning, the earlier the better! Thinking about college as a sophomore leads to better decisions about course selection for subsequent years (rigor is the most important factor in the admission decision) as well as a stronger testing plan, with less stress, and more time to plan college visits, whether virtual or in-person.


In the next month or two, you’ll have to choose courses for junior year. Plan for two years! If you take pre-calc as a junior, identify what you might take as a senior. Yes, colleges look at calculus and statistics differently. But, which is better for you, your sanity, and your potential career goals?


You may have taken the PSAT in October. Have you taken a practice ACT? I can facilitate that. I encourage everyone to do it so we can determine which is the better test for them. There’s a lot of misinformation about the tests and sometimes families make decisions based on what they’ve heard or what their friend’s kids did. Those aren’t great strategies. Choose the test and the testing schedule that works best for you!


If college excites you, and you want to start researching schools to identify preferences of size and type, that’s fantastic. Starting “early” allows you to do things at your pace. However, if you’re just trying to keep your head above water, that’s OK. Most sophomores aren’t ready to jump into the school search and they turn out just fine. The important thing is to have a sense of what’s on the horizon. If you’ve done nothing other than reading this blog, you’re ahead of most of your peers.


Freshmen: How are you?? Starting high school virtually is definitely not ideal, but you’re doing it! Keep going. Your goals for this year are to stay healthy and sane and build good habits that will carry you through the next three years and beyond. If you’re up for it, get involved with some clubs—see what you like. If you’re feeling super motivated, read what the upperclassmen should be focusing on. Understanding what each of your four years will look like is the greatest way to prepare.


Regardless of your grade, the road to college is not always a direct path. There are many routes to success and you need to go at the speed that works for you. Whatever that is, I’ll be here with directions and cool things to check out along the route. Did you know the world’s largest fire hydrant is in Columbia, South Carolina, about ten minutes from the University of South Carolina? 


As always, please be in touch with any questions you have.


Stay safe.  

Reena

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