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  • Writer's pictureReena

High School Juniors + COVID 19

Hey, everyone.

I hope this finds you all healthy. This is uncharted territory for literally the entire world, let alone high schools and universities, so I wanted to share a few things to hopefully assuage some of your fears and concerns. As always, I am available for whatever you need. In this post I wanted to touch on all the things that people have been asking about. You might find it helpful to print it and keep it as a reference tool.

First, some context:

Some colleges have been good about communicating with prospects in their database, but right now the priority is finalizing decisions for current seniors. Many schools are releasing decisions at the end of this week and next week. Until those decisions are out—and they know what they’re doing about Accepted Student Days and yield events--they’re not going to be thinking too much about the current juniors. It’s not that they don’t care—this is how admissions works. It always has!

That said, unlike regional natural disasters that have forced schools to extend deadlines, COVID 19 has disrupted the entire education system. Where schools have been reluctant to make adjustments for previous situations, they have been uniquely hit by this pandemic. So, they will be making adjustments—we just don’t know yet what they’ll look like—and neither do they. BUT, know that the longer this drags on, the greater those adjustments will be. If everyone returns to school in mid-April, it will be relatively “easy” to stay close to “on-track.” If, however, students are learning remotely through the end of the school year, things will obviously change more dramatically.

The take-away….just keep doing what you’re doing. As I learn the new rules, I will share them. Imagine you’re on a diet and you’re stressing about what the scale MIGHT say. Until you see that number, you can create dozens of scary scenarios. But planning for scenarios that may not happen is a waste of time and mental energy. The better strategy is to wait for the number! When we know it, we can react. There’s a list below of things we can do short-term. Also, colleges will not penalize students for this! I have students in Hong Kong who have been learning virtually since January!! This is affecting the entire class of 2021. Colleges and universities will not be punitive.

Now for the specifics:


Keep in mind something I have said to all of you: colleges don’t have a preference for which test you take or when. While it’s not ideal, there are test dates in the summer and fall. So, you have options. You might not like them, and they may interfere with your current plans, but they exist! Many are encouraging all colleges to go test-optional for the class of 2021. I don’t think that is going to happen, but it’s a little too soon to know for sure. But, remember, you have options.


The College Board has left SAT cancellations up to individual schools. I suspect that will change now that the ACT has cancelled the entire April 4 administration. If you were registered for the March 14 SAT and it was cancelled, you should have received instructions from the College Board. My advice is to register for the next test date for which you are available. It’s better to have a seat at a location that is convenient for you and have it be cancelled again than to not have a confirmed registration.


If you were planning to take them in May or June, make sure you’re registered. Again, better to have a spot than not. If you need May or June to take the SAT for the first or second time, look at the other dates to see when the subjects you were hoping to take are offered. In other words, if Math II is offered in October, perhaps you can take it then rather than May or June so that you can leave May or June for your SAT I. Make sense? The scheduling of your tests should be at your convenience and when you feel most prepared—again, it doesn’t matter to colleges.


This is a far more grey area, and I would encourage you to defer to your teachers. BUT, be sensitive to the fact that they do not have the answers yet. Last week, the AP folks had a rough sketch of what exams would look like depending on how long kids were learning virtually. For example, if they went back to school on X date, the test schedule would remain the same, but if they went back on Y date, it would be pushed to a later date, and if they went back after Z, they couldn’t determine when they’d be administered. BUT, that was last week before the NYC schools were closed and before the recommended quarantine time was extended, sooooo to be continued. Again, this affects AP students around the world. Try not to panic. Keep learning the material, so that when the tests come, you’ll be ready.


As I mentioned, admission offices are scrambling to make decisions for seniors. Next on their priority list is helping juniors and sophomores fall in love with their school so they will apply. Some have already set up virtual opportunities, and others are rushing to create something. Here’s a short list.

Keep in mind two important things: as schools adjust their expectations for the class of 2021, they will adjust their expectations of demonstrated interest—they know you can’t get to campus!! More importantly, there have always been multiple ways to demonstrate interest: requesting information from a website, clicking links in emails you get from a school, participating in a meeting with the school rep when s/he comes to your high school (these will resume aggressively in September), emailing with the admission office or a faculty member about something substantive, etc. So, don’t feel like you can’t demonstrate interest if you can’t get to campus.


Many of you have heard me say not to worry about your specific GPA because some colleges recalculate and some don’t and those that do don’t all do it the same way. Admission committees are most concerned about the rigor of your curriculum, within what’s available at your school, and how you’ve navigated it. That will not change. What grades will look for the spring is a big question mark depending on when schools started learning virtually and for how long, among other things. Based on what I’ve heard, the tendency will be to be more lenient rather than less. Regardless of how it evolves, colleges understand that conditions were not typical for your junior Spring semester. It’s too soon to know what this means—most likely it means that more schools will look more closely at fall senior year grades than normal. Frankly, that’s a good thing—you want to be thrown back into the fire a bit. Imagine if you were going off to university this fall without “real” instruction for several months. Proving what you’re capable of—via strong senior grades—reinforces your readiness for college level learning AND gives you important continuity before jumping into college work and expectations. For now, do your best work. Teachers are absolutely paying attention to who is treating the virtual learning like a vacation and who is remaining diligent. Something like that can make a big difference in letters of recommendations and/or feedback counselors receive and include in their letters.


Most of us have already had a conversation about who you think you’d ask to write on your behalf. We can continue having those conversations, but it’s not urgent. In a typical year, teachers are thinking about AP exams and getting through all of their content by the end of the year. Now, they have to do all of that virtually. If you’re back to school by late April, that’s a perfectly fine time to make the official ask. Even if you don’t return till mid-May, you’re OK. Promise! Worst case scenario, if you don’t return at all until September, it’s still OK. Your counselors will let you know the necessary procedures.


  1. We can start brainstorming essays. Most students prefer to wait until the bulk of junior year and their testing is behind them. But with extra time on their hands, we can start this now, so that when things return to normal, we’ll have this piece of the puzzle handled.

  2. We can start filling in the Common Application. This is essentially data-entry and doesn’t require a lot of thinking. Translation….it can easily be worked on without detracting significantly from homework. Note: it is impossible to complete the entire thing before August 1 when the school-specific questions are added, but we can finish 85% of it!

  3. You can pay attention to how schools are handling the crisis. Are they displacing students without support? Are they communicating frequently with families? You may say that you don’t care if Harvard didn’t handle it well, you still want to go to Harvard because it’s Harvard. BUT….what if you have a crisis while you’re a student there? Will you be thinking about the prestige of the school or how responsive they were to your needs? This is actually a great way to get a look at how a university really behaves, beyond what they advertise in their recruitment materials.

  4.  If you haven’t already, request information from any school in which you have an interest. As they make virtual visit opportunities available, you will be among the first to be notified. Similarly, if you’re a Twitter or Instagram user, follow the school. Above is a list of what some schools are already doing, but a school’s own website and/or social media account is always the best source.

  5. Even if your teachers are giving you as much work as they would if you were going to school each day, you can’t go to clubs and activities, so you should have some extra time on your hands. I’m not saying you have to do more, but…… at least one school is going to add some type of “what did you do during quarantine” type question to their application and interviewers will certainly ask it. It’d be great to have something to talk about other than the shows you binge-watched. Is there a subject you’ve always wanted to explore? You can take dozens of free classes from top universities here: you have a bucket-list of books you’ve always wanted to read but never had time for? Are you sad that you’re missing your sport season? Maybe you can figure out a way to experience sports virtually so that others-who never have access to a sport season-can enjoy the benefits of team sports. Are you a musician? Maybe you can find a way to share your music with others or elderly folks who can’t leave their homes. Colleges will not expect you to have officially changed the world during this “time-out” but if you’re thinking about….it can definitely help you!

As you’ve heard repeatedly, things are changing hourly. I will try to update you whenever there is substantive information. In the meantime, I am here for whatever questions you have.

Stay healthy.


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