As we navigate new territory, the Hunt District PTA has heard countless concerns regarding the higher education process and what impacts the COVID-19 Return To School scenarios will have on students and college admissions this year and in the future. The Hunt District PTA is proud to collaborate with representatives from colleges and universities on the East Coast to begin to answer some of those concerns.
To view the conversation it it's entirety, please visit our YouTube Channel.
How does a student best explore a school when in person tours are no longer a thing? This is a huge decision, the choosing of where to apply to, and it's daunting for both the student and parents.
Andy - Complete the virtual tours and reach out to the admissions office with your questions. Review how the colleges respond to the pandemic; what actions were taken during the pandemic, equipment provided, refunds, etc. This will demonstrate how student-friendly they are. Reach out to faculty, student affairs and current students to get a sense of what life is like on campus which helps give a deep dive of college life at that campus. Admissions offices can put you in touch with current students.
David- Every university is expanding their offerings. You can get more now than you could a year ago. Some of things were “nice to have,” now, they are essential. Attend a virtual event for all of the colleges on your list. The gem and beauty of a visit is the relationships you develop. Meet someone who you can communicate with. Amy- Let prospective schools know that you are attending certain events. Do not just lurk. Colleges want to know and they want to make those connections. Staff are not traveling so they are craving the opportunity to connect with potential students. Jimmie - When do you get the opportunity to look at so many schools in one day? The ability to get deeper answers is a huge benefit.
Class of 2021 Impact due to students taking a gap year
One of the current worries is that the application process for the class of 2021 will be more restrictive because so many students are taking a gap year due to COVID-19. Can you comment on this dynamic?
Juan - Deferral process has been revamped to allow flexibility up to two years and are working with local colleges to help students take classes during their gap year, which would move students to the “transfer” category, as opposed to deferring completely. There is a small number of deferrals but still an uptick in this number at VT. Schools are experiencing higher melt rates. Schools will be increasing their acceptance rates so it should be less competitive.
Brett - For example, Penn State is deferring all students for one semester until Spring and then students can opt to attend or defer. They do not feel they are going to lose students or have low enrollment numbers. They are definitely working towards having a larger number of students for next year. Schools will look at the total number of students on campus, rather than per grade to determine how big a class might be. Less students this year would mean needing more admissions next year to reach campus goal.
Amy - The narrative of class sizes for 2021 is a false narrative. In the grand scheme it is a small number. Once students understand their options they want to start with their freshman class which expands the available opportunities.
David - We do not have a solid sense that everything is going to return to normal in a year. We expect when vaccines are in play and social distancing calms down that students would rather virtual learning opportunities.
Andy/Jimmie - Small schools are not experiencing much of a deferral uptick. At F&M, average number of deferrals each year is around 25-30. Currently, they have 30 deferrals for this year, so no increase.
COVID-19 has affected my students ability to be able to take the SAT. Will it count against him if he is not able to obtain an SAT score to submit with his application? If seniors cannot take the SAT, will this affect Merit Awards at many private colleges? Schools that have moved to “test optional” — is it better to submit a first round (not great) SAT/ACT score or not submit a score?
Amy - With very few exceptions, all college universities have gone to test optional not requiring SAT/ACT. Focus on:
Put Your Best Foot Forward
The increased anxiety over a test is not a good practice. This is the moment in time for colleges to look at the role of standardized testing in the admission process. Students and parents should not worry about this.
Andy - Only caveat to the above are schools with merit scholarships. Ensure that you do your homework and see if schools are requiring you to take a test for a scholarship consider if that is really the best school for you.
Brett -Special Admission programs - double check with admissions (medical schools) as some special majors may require test scores.
How will the Covid-19 situation affect athletic recruitment, especially for sports with cancelled seasons? How will it affect athletic scholarships?
David - The basic rules are unchanged. NCAA is very clear on where things stand. Your best relationship is going to be with the coach. Having that connection will be powerful if you are considering collegiate athletics. At this time there is no reason to think that anything will change.
Brett - Big10/ACC environment students are already in touch with their coaches. We do not know what is going to happen but we have to roll with the punches. As of now the Big 10 are moving forward with athletics. We are all going to have to adjust as things transpire.
We are finding a lot of teachers are not willing to write reference letters because "it is outside their contract", because of issues in Loudoun County - what would happen in this situation? Due to Covid and doing all Distance Learning, will reference letters still be required by two teachers and the counselor?? Many teachers are now saying "no" because it is not in their contract.
Jimmie - The word is flexibility in everything we do. There may be a few that stick to certain requirements but flexibility will be the name of the game.
Andy - Every admission office is set up to read applications based on geographical location. When schools make decisions about applications they are also making decisions based on the environment students were exposed to. This includes what coursework was offered from their high school during this time. It would be great to have that information from high schools, but we understand that may not happen. Applicants should be forthcoming with information and try to reach out to their counselors to get what they can.
Juan - Admission committee has a lot of experience in identifying trends in application patterns.
PASS/fail vs letter grades
How are college’s handling the Pass/Fail grading systems at the public school level?
Brett - Schools are not keeping track of the high school processes. It would be impossible. Some high schools offer pass/fail courses outside of COVID-19. When it comes to pass/fail admissions are going to honor them and not disqualify them from admissions.
Amy - Nothing last spring was standard practice. Students were struggling with technology, devices, etc. Getting through the year was trying for many students. You will see many admission officers being flexible and compassionate through this process.
Juan - Everyone went through the same situation. No one student is going to be at a competitive advantage over another. Colleges and Universities will work with students and their families to ensure this is a fair process for everyone.
REgional or state-level collaboration for admissions
Has a state-level (or regional) collegiate board been formed to discuss how admissions criteria or processes will change statewide for all public and private colleges post-COVID?
Andy - Colleges are chatting with each other but there is no real unification related to COVID. They have to make their best decisions for what works for them.
Brett - Conversations are happening to gather ideas. However schools are autonomous and will end up doing their own thing.
Jimmie - The presidents are colleges are talking for hours at a time and are really leaning on their colleagues to be well informed but again making the best decision for their own schools
Amy - Lots of regional conversations depending on what part of the country you are in. Deans have agreed to a commitment of flexibility in the admission process. This happened to everyone. We are all going to maximize flexibility to the best of our abilities. Relationships with colleges will be more important than ever.
Essays Prompts and Other Advice
Any guidance on personal essays? I am guessing you do not want to read thousands of "COVID perseverance" stories. Should you try to focus on other aspects of your life in essays?
David - People should write about what moves them and not force it. Tell your unique story. Admissions want basics revealed about how a student writes and their interpretation of the prompt. Focus on being true to your voice and you will succeed.
What advice would you give to rising seniors and juniors to impress colleges, given that standardized tests may be optional and limited opportunities for extra curricular. How can students stand out
Andy - it's impressive when the student is driving the process. Usually it is the parent but having the student drive the process and make the connections is always really impressive. It shows a level of maturity and how successful they would be in college
Amy - This is a time to really widen your reach. Most people are in the same scenario. This is a time to look at smaller schools / more regional public schools. Sometimes we do not see beyond the bigger schools. There are many universities that will be courting students and want to meet students plus more digital opportunities. Take advantage of this!
Hunt District PTA - Serving Clarke, Frederick, Loudoun & Warren Counties & Winchester City in Virginia