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Nothing entertaining in today's update, but an important one nonetheless.
A couple of students have asked recently how the COVID-19 outbreak will affect college admissions. In truth, I don't think anyone truly knows or that anyone will have a real handle on that information until we've reached and passed the peak of the curve (again, stay home if you are able!).
However, this year is going to be different. AP exams for high schoolers will still take place in May, but in lieu of the traditional 3-hour behemoth of an exam, students will now take a 45-minute free response exam on the computer at home. To mitigate concerns about fairness to students without access to technology, each exam is being offered on 2 different dates, which will be announced at the end of this week. More information is available at apcentral.collegeboard.org/about-ap/news-changes/coronavirus-update.
I have mixed feelings about this change, mostly due to the nature of the 45 minute exam, the truncating of material subject to testing, and the uncertainty of how these exams will be received by students and colleges, but I understand why the College Board felt the need to go this route instead of postponing the exams, and I think that graders, administrators, and colleges alike are going to approach these with a bit of latitude to make things easier for all.
The April and May SAT and ACT sittings have both been canceled; the ACT has rescheduled the April 4 test to June 13, meaning that students who had registered for the April test can take it June 13 at no extra charge. The March SAT has been postponed with no new date announced, and the May SAT has been flat out canceled with refunds available. If the stay at home orders are lifted by then, the next SAT is scheduled for June 6.
Some schools, perhaps most visibly the UC system in California, have relaxed the standardized test requirements for Fall 2021 applicants, and if the pandemic continues and impacts those June exams, I would expect some other schools to do the same.
This doesn't mean that it'll be easier to get into these schools, however. In recent years, the importance of standardized testing has lessened; these tests, rather than being hard metrics to consider or eliminate candidates as graduate school exams like the LSAT or MCAT continue to be, are merely one factor taken into account when considering an applicant. If they are devalued even more, then other factors such as extracurricular activities, rigor of curriculum, and the application personal statement will matter much more, and this could leave students who were depending on a high test score to push them over the edge scrambling.
All in all, the college admissions process could very well become extra competitive this year. Colleges admit more students than they expect to matriculate as a rule, and the number of students they admit depends upon patterns; they want to admit enough students to fill their rosters but not so many that they cannot house all who enroll. Aberrations have happened in the past, famously in the 1970's at my alma mater, Dartmouth, but colleges are usually pretty good at estimating. This year will be different. I've seen speculation from various sources that students may want to stay closer to home or that schools with larger international student populations could suffer due to travel restrictions and the economy. The financial toll of sending students home in March could also impact financial aid in coming years as well as opportunities and programs within schools. In all honesty, we just don't know what will happen yet.
So if you are a parent, student, or friend of a rising senior, what can you do to help your chances of getting into a school that's the right fit for you? First, don't assume that just because some schools are relaxing their testing requirements that you can just ignore that aspect. Essentially, in this time of uncertainty, you want to cover your bases even more than before. Take the standardized test of your choice when you are able and do your best on it. Use some of this unstructured time to prep well. If you are light on activities, you're in a tough spot because you can't necessarily go volunteer at a shelter or join a club, but look into organizations that you may be able to help from home. Or use this time to learn or master a new skill. You've always had an idea to make a website or start learning music? DO IT! Tempting as it is, you don't have to marathon an entire series on Netflix in three days (though I'm guilty of it too).
This is also a good time to start thinking about the dreaded college essay. I tell my students that the summer before senior year is the time to knock it off the to-do list. If the testing schedule is off this year, though, you may be taking an SAT or ACT in the summer, and thinking about what you want to write about now can take some stress off of your shoulders.
The prompts for the Common Application change very little from year to year. The 2019-2020 prompts were as follows:
I don't anticipate these changing much this year, if at all. Note that they all are asking you to think and write introspectively, which isn't the easiest task for most. These prompts are designed to get students to tell colleges who they are and what they value. Again, this is a good time to start thinking about this.
If you're unsure of where to start, make a list of things that matter to you and be honest. Make another list of maybe stories from your life that mean something to you or make you laugh. These things don't have to be the most profound stories or qualities in the world; the best essays are simply honest, and most seventeen year olds haven't cured cancer or raised millions of dollars for charity (though if you have, good on you). You will likely be uncomfortable at some point in this process; know that that is okay. As a bit of a self-plug, if you or anyone you know is dealing with the standardized testing/college admissions process, I have availability and would be happy to set up a time to talk/brainstorm virtually.