With schools reverting to remote learning, standardized tests postponed, rescheduled, or completely revamped because of COVID-19, and college campuses and only offering virtual visit opportunities, the college admissions landscape has become a challenging and constantly evolving situation that students, educators, and administrators are navigating.  If you’re a junior this year and applying to college for enrollment in Fall 2021, there are several important developments in the application process that you should know.

My grades for the second semester of junior year will be pass/fail because of the COVID-19 pandemic; are colleges going to penalize me for this?

While there are no specific policies regarding how institutions will evaluate spring semester grades this year, colleges and universities will most likely focus on grades from earlier in the year AND confirm that you have “passed” all of your classes at the end of the year.  So just keep up with your studies and do your best. Keep things in perspective: every high school junior is in the same situation you are in.

Several schools I’m interested in are saying they are test optional, what does this mean?  Should I even take the tests?

For those of you who have already scheduled times to take either the SAT or ACT exams, you’ve probably heard that the spring test dates (March, April and May) have been canceled. As of April 15, the College Board has canceled the June SAT as well. The ACT announced on April 16th that they are planning to leave the June and July test dates as is. Therefore, students should consider registering immediately for those test dates and preparing. Both SAT and ACT examinations may be administered online this fall (much like the AP exams this year), so make sure to stay up to date on testing information. We will be constantly updating our social media accounts, (Facebook, Instagram, Education Station Blog) so make sure to follow us.  In response to the uncertainty surrounding test dates, student availability, and school schedules, many colleges and universities (over 1000 at this time) are not requiring students to submit test scores on their college applications for Fall 2021. Be sure to read the fine print in their statements though, because some are waiving only SAT II exams (like MIT, Harvard, and other top ranked universities) but still requiring the SAT I or ACT.   For a full list of test optional schools, click here.

As a college counselor understanding that next year will be a really interesting year, I strongly recommend that students take either the SAT or ACT if possible, and especially if they are looking at higher ranking schools.  While there may be less emphasis placed on tests during this COVID-19 pandemic, at the more competitive institutions, you will most likely be competing against students who do have test scores to submit. I would advise taking the test, seeing where your results fall, and then making a decision regarding whether or not to submit them if you are applying to a test optional school.  Please know that there is a difference between the term “TEST OPTIONAL” and the term “TEST FLEXIBLE.” They mean different things: test optional schools DO NOT require students to submit test scores, whereas test flexible schools give you options for which scores you can submit (basically, they expect you to submit some sort of test score). You want to be sure you check in with the colleges and universities on your list, especially if they are saying they are test flexible. 

I’ve done some research and I’m interested in several schools, will I be able to visit them?

The immediate answer is NO.  At the moment, colleges and universities have closed their campuses to everyone except essential employees.  Unfortunately, there is no specific timetable for when colleges and universities will open up for tours. Take advantage of the virtual tours on university websites and Youtube. Some universities have even created program-specific virtual tours. Of course, virtual tours are never the same as on-campus visits, but they are a good starting point which I compare to “window-shopping” online. In a time when expressing interest is also an aspect of the admissions process, attending virtual events like open houses and webinars where you can ask questions and learn more about specific programs is encouraged.

Ok, what should I do to get ready or start the application process?

My best piece of advice is to get started. Don’t waste time during this pandemic! You know that when the social distancing restrictions have lifted, the last thing you are going to want to do is to stay home and write college application essays or spend any unnecessary time online filling out applications. While you’re home and in whatever form of “sheltering-in-place” you are doing, get started on the common application, finalize your activities resume to the best of your abilities, and get working on your personal statements and supplemental essays for the schools to which you KNOW you’ve decided to apply. Simply getting a draft of everything done can help save time because it will be easier to tweak and edit later on.

Finalize that list, organize your college data…and don’t forget that if you’re feeling overwhelmed, we are here to help. This is our wheelhouse, and we are committed to being a resource to you, especially during this strange and surreal time. Stay healthy, positive, and don’t be a stranger. We can help.

How Can Education Station help?

Online programs are available everyday to support students during this hectic time! For students who are just beginning the college process, check out our SAT/ACT Test Prep programsAP Exam Prep Courses and FREE Resources– including a college profile review session with our co-founder and expert college counselor, Christine Chapman. If you are ready to get a jump start on your application, College Process Workshops are available online. From test prep to application form-filling… we can support you at any stage of the college process!

By Christine Chapman, Co-Founder & Expert Admissions Counselor and Educational Consultant