Test Optional Admissions: How it’s Changed College Admissions For All

Since the Pandemic, test optional admissions policies have become increasingly popular in the world of college admissions. The vast majority of colleges now have test optional or test blind policies. These policies allow applicants to decide whether or not to submit their standardized test scores (such as the SAT or ACT) as part of their college application. This can be a beneficial option for students who may not perform well on standardized tests, but excel in other areas such as GPA, extracurricular activities, or personal essays. There is, however, a major, unintended consequence of test optional admissions policies: They have resulted in selective colleges – and other popular schools – experiencing dramatic increases in applications. This in turn, has caused those colleges to be much more competitive.

Not requiring the SAT or ACT has made it easier for students who may not perform well on standardized tests to apply to colleges. These students may have previously been discouraged from applying to selective colleges due to their test scores, but test optional policies allow them to still be considered for admission based on their other strengths and accomplishments. This has led to an increase in the number of applications to selective colleges, as more students are able to apply without the burden of high test scores.

Test optional policies have also led to an increase in the number of diverse applicants to selective colleges. Standardized tests have been shown to disproportionately favor students from certain racial and socio-economic backgrounds, and test optional policies have helped to level the playing field for students from underrepresented groups. This has increased the diversity of the applicant pool at selective colleges, leading to a decrease in selectivity as more students are able to meet the admissions criteria.

Finally, test optional policies have also led to an increase in the number of applications from students who may not have otherwise applied to selective colleges. Some students may be hesitant to apply to selective colleges due to the perceived competitiveness of the admissions process, but test optional policies may make these schools seem more accessible and encourage more students to apply.

Test optional admissions policies have had a significant impact on the college admissions process, increasing the number of applications and decreasing selectivity at popular, selective colleges. This is one reason why it’s critical for students and families to look beyond the rankings and the brand name schools to find colleges that are a great fit for them. Doing so will increase admissions choices as well as scholarships. At The College Advisor of New York, we work with students to gain admission to selective colleges, while also helping them find “hidden gems,” so that every student has excellent options.

Making Peace With 2021 Admission Results

By Kathy Laberge, College Admission Coach 

Dear Class of 2021, 

It isn’t you, it’s them.  Only the colleges know what they were seeking in a freshman class this year. You have every right to be baffled, disappointed even. This was an extremely confusing year for both applicants and colleges. 

Not a day goes by when our staff doesn’t share stories of our students. We have mentored, pushed (maybe even shoved,) and cheered you on.  Over an admission season we may share our delight in a particular essay or bounce application strategies off one another. And now, in April, we share our excitement at admissions and scholarships, and, also discuss our dismay at a disappointing rejection. We gaze into our crystal balls trying to determine why Princeton accepted an applicant, but Brown did not. Why did Harvard take a student, but that same student was denied at Northeastern?  

These answers are held secret in comfortable conference rooms (and confidential Zoom meetings). Building an incoming class is akin to practicing medicine, a combination or art and science. Every admission officer from highly selective colleges we have ever spoken with has told us they turn away hundreds, even thousands, of viable candidates each year. Colleges decide where to weight their admits and those factors vary annually. Some years they may need more high GPA students, others may be focused on increasing diversity, and other years may demand more students who will pay the full tuition tab. Their decision is not based upon who they want to admit; they are forced to decide which students they must turn away. In short, each year they extend a place in the class to students who meet their needs and those they deem most likely to accept an offer of admission.   

This year the most selective colleges reported some of the lowest acceptance rates in history. Harvard saw a 42% increase in applications and MIT had 66% more applicants than last year. Even New York University, housed in a city plagued by Covid-19, saw an increase of 20%. Admission officers were overwhelmed by the sheer number of applications. Some colleges called in retired employees to review the applications and others had to give shorter looks to submissions. 

Why did we see this increase in applications? Did students reach for dream schools because they were test optional? It is said standardized tests provide a common denominator. They can serve as a triage tool, a way for admission officers to not assess the curriculum at every high school from which an applicant emerges. In a year when many candidates could not submit standardized test scores how can a student be blamed for taking a wild shot at an Ivy? We suspect 2020 offered students time to make their sole extracurricular activity applying to colleges, even though the time and effort required to prepare those applications is astonishing. You can’t win it if you’re not in it, right? Our students were spared this ordeal, but we weep for all the wasted time, money, and emotion that was expended on crap shoot applications.  

The first meeting at The College Advisor of New York is spent stressing our commitment to finding a student’s right fit. We know there are more than (the top) twenty-five excellent institutions of higher learning in this country. A terrific education is available at countless colleges and universities. Competition for faculty positions is fierce and we proudly number some former students on numerous campuses as faculty. Our confidence is not misplaced, we know firsthand how extraordinary these people are.  In fact, the vast majority of our clients were admitted to most of their schools. The “top twenty-five” are overrated.

In a year where lengthy college waitlists are the norm and highly selective colleges have turned away so many promising young adults, we urge you to maintain perspective. College will be grand. You will learn astonishing amounts of information, discover passions you never knew you had, and make lifelong friends. 

It isn’t you. It’s them. So, perhaps they didn’t tender an offer of admission to you. And that? Is their loss. 

Getting to know you was our privilege. 

Dean, Barbara, Ann, Beth, Erin, Deb and Kathy 

Getting In: Open Your College Mail

By Barbara Healey, The College Advisor of New York

Right about now high school juniors and many sophomores should begin noticing that their mailbox is overflowing with unsolicited letters and catalogues from colleges all over the country.  The volume of college mail you will be receiving from college admissions offices over the next several months can be overwhelming.  In addition, your child is likely to be receiving emails from colleges as well.  How do college admissions folks get your contact info? They purchase names from a variety of sources, including The College Board, makers of the PSAT, SAT, and AP Courses, and ACT, the competing college admissions test company. It may seem flattering (I can’t believe how many schools are recruiting my student!) – but that’s not necessarily the case.

In fact, your student is receiving this mail as part of an aggressive marketing campaign on the part of the colleges.  College admissions officers spend millions of dollars each year on “Enrollment Management” practices designed to attract the most applications.

Demonstrating Interest

Demonstrating interest in a college is a key factor in admission decisions at many schools. In our College Advisor Blog archives, we posted an article more than 7 years ago on this topic, but the advice still rings true today. Demonstrating interest in a college is a key factor in admission decisions at many schools.  So what should you do?  If you are receiving mail from a school your student has expressed an interest in, save it.  Open it.  Respond if appropriate. If you are receiving mail from a school that you know does not match your student’s interests (they want to stay close to home; this school is 3,000 miles away), toss it.  Unsure?  Save it and take a look.  All too often, students and parents come to us with a list of 8-10 “brand-name” schools – colleges that everyone has heard about.  But there are so many schools that might be a better fit — academically, socially and financially – and this is your opportunity to learn a little more about them.  We often call these “hidden gems” and Dr. Dean has visited all of them.  Of course, The College Advisor staff is happy to help you identify schools that are a good fit for your student.  Over the past two years alone, we have helped with over 2,000 college applications to more than 300 different colleges in 32 states and 2 countries.  Contact us to learn more about how we can help your student create a custom-tailored list.

College Admissions Interviews

College Admissions Interviews in the Time of Covid-19

By Kathy Laberge, College Admissions Coach

We are now in the last month of 2020 and the year continues to toss twists in our path. Between the challenge of sitting for standardized tests, completing course study remotely, essentially being denied most extracurriculars, and experiencing difficulty conducting campus visits in person, the college search and selection process for the Class of 2021 continues to be challenging.

Campus admission offices are thinking on their feet and recalibrating their evaluation protocols. It has always been a truism that admissions staff evaluate potential candidates during every interaction. An informal conversation while on a tour, an email requesting information or expressing interest, and the number of times a candidate interacts with a college are both evaluative for Admissions and fairly low pressure for students.

Formal College Interview has almost disappeared

But then, the calendar turned to 2020. The days of the formal college interview had almost disappeared. Now, many colleges require or recommend an interview, or are offering virtual interviews. Some schools are requesting applicants submit a two-minute “video portfolio” in lieu of an interview.

It’s always a good idea to seize an opportunity to demonstrate your interest in a school so we at The College Advisor of New York are embracing the silver lining. Our students are being offered more alumni interviews than they have in past years. These conversations have always been used, but they didn’t carry much weight; if a candidate was a clear, poor match for a college then a closer look would ensue. In most cases, the interviewer would merely report their impressions of a student’s personality and goals., This year, even if conducted over Zoom, college interviews could be one of the very few interactions available to candidates.

So, what makes a good college interview?

How can the process benefit both the applicant and the institution?

The answer is in the conversation. The college interview process can be nerve-racking. Students should remember they are interviewing the schools just as the colleges are interviewing them.

The discussion gives the college another opportunity to evaluate students and help determine whether or not to offer admission and merit aid. It provides the college with an opportunity to give more information about the school and answer questions. Furthermore, the interview gives the college a chance to learn more about the student, their interests, and how they will be able to contribute to the school.

As long as the candidate is polite, attentive, and prepared, it should only help chances of acceptance. Also, the interview is an opportunity to learn more about the school and help students decide whether or not it would be a good fit.

There are some questions candidates should prepare responses to in advance. Additionally, students should prepare questions for the interviewer in advance. Feel free to carry a notebook or laptop for recording pertinent points and to consult so the information you want to share is covered. This is not the place to use a notes app on a phone – it just doesn’t look good.

Once both parties are comfortable and have introduced themselves (no handshaking, it’s 2020!) be ready for a conversation.

“Tell me about yourself” is quite common as an opening question and you should have an answer ready. Colleges truly want to know more about you, so paint a portrait of yourself that will separate you from other candidates. Be specific, honest and personal. There will be plenty of time to discuss academics so use this as a chance to reveal what inspires you or talk about one of your passions.

“Why are you interested in this college?” is also a very important question asked in college admissions interviews. In part, it is designed to determine your level of interest a particular school. Your response here should be well researched, specific, and convincing.

You may be asked who you admire, why you want to concentrate in a certain field of study, what you are looking forward to in campus life, where you see yourself in ten years, what you perceive to be your strengths and weaknesses, or any number of other topics. All these are designed to nurture conversation and the exchange of ideas.

The coaching staff at The College Advisor of New York is well versed in interview prep. We conduct mock interviews, but more importantly, we teach you how to compose your responses, how to conduct yourself, and how you – the student – can walk away from an interview feeling better than you did before the conversation began. In short, we help to inspire a sense of confidence in yourself.

The report from an interviewer almost always helps your candidacy because it helps flesh you out as a multidimensional person. Students should view the opportunity as a tool to enhance candidacy and make the best college admissions decision. There really is no downside!

College Applications

My College Applications Have Been Submitted …Now What?

By Erin Wheeler, College Admissions Coach

What happens after my college applications are in?

This year’s admissions process has been exhausting for everyone involved.  Cancelled SAT’s, lack of campus tours, online classes, flexible deadlines, and new admissions requirements have us all going a little crazy this fall.  BUT there is something you can control, and that is your own behavior.  As a student, you CAN control how much interest you display to each college. Showing this “demonstrated interest” exhibits that you are seriously interested in attending their school.  This may help the admissions officers view your application a bit more favorably, especially this year. 

YES, you can (and should!) continue to show that you have a serious interest in that particular college, even after the college applications have been submitted. 

How do you do this?  Here are some simple ideas to try this month:

1 – Send a follow up e-mail to your college admissions counselor

On the college website, go to the admissions section, then look for a tab that says “contact us” or “meet our team”.  Admissions staff members normally have territories they are responsible for handling, which means that all applications from your area are processed by the same person.  Find that person and send a quick e-mail!  Let them know you have applied, are excited to hear back from them, and maybe include a detail about your application that you want to highlight.  Establishing a relationship with that representative is a great way to help your chances for admission.

2 – Schedule a college applications interview

Even though you can’t visit every campus right now, many are offering online interviews with staff members or even a student interviewer.  This is a wonderful way to get some extra time with the admissions folks and let them hear more about you, your achievements, and your desire to attend their school.

3 – Attend a college event

Again, most schools have moved these events online, but you can still participate!  Sign up for a webinar that uses Zoom, communicate during a live online chat, or attend a live student information session. You want the school to know that you are present and engaged during these online sessions.

4 – Take a campus tour

Some colleges campuses are open for small campus tours, both during the week and on weekends.  Even if you checked in the past and the school was closed for tours, please check again!  Schools are working very hard to find creative ways to get prospective students on campus using small tours, self-guided tours, and personal experiences (without a large crowd). 

5 – E-mails and social media

Your inbox is full, we know!  However, it’s important you are engaging with e-mails from schools where you’ve applied.  Are they asking you to set up an applicant portal?  Complete a form?  Please be sure to do those things!  You may also be receiving e-mails with information about your major, invitations to participate in something, or to follow them on various forms of social media.  Please don’t ignore those messages!  Click through them and respond as appropriate.  Many schools DO track student interaction with these types of messages. 

The past several months have changed the way we all live and learn; that is for certain.  But what has not changed is the fact that colleges want to admit students who show interest in attending.  Take the time to communicate with your schools and let them know you would be honored to attend their institution. It is time well spent and will always be an asset to your application. 

Parenting for College Success

Landing The Helicopter: Parenting for College Success

By Kathy Laberge, College Admission Coach 

It’s late August, and we know what that means! Family cars sporting snappy new college decals are loaded with computers, books, school supplies, linens, clothing, and tons of other essentials. Childhood homes are in the rear-view mirror as first year students are transported to their new colleges.

The beginning of college is an exciting and intimidating time for both parents and students. It can be difficult to break certain parental habits, but the new living and learning experience is the perfect opportunity to make a transition. Several College Advisor of New York admissions coaches are proud parents of college and university alumni. We feel your pain and we appreciate your excitement. We’ve been there. And we want to share some hard-earned advice. 

Children in college do not become college students overnight.

They need to learn how to take an important exam, write a lengthy and convincing paper, and deliver a presentation in class. While they are doing the work of education they must concurrently determine how they personally best learn, handle social tensions with friends, manage situations with others who may not be their friend, responsibly supervise their own finances, do laundry, feed themselves, and control their own schedule.

The true business of college, education, is critical.

The evolution from high school senior to college graduate is a long transition. Faculty know freshmen are still essentially high school students at college, at least until those first semester, mid-term grades are posted. Those scores are important, but they are not the final course grade, so if they deliver a wake-up call be thankful, not critical. It can be an emotional blow learning you are no longer at the top of your class. Your child may need to wrestle with his own priorities and create study habits that work for him. In fact, succeeding academically in college typically requires much more work than most students expend in high school.  Very few students make it through a challenging and varied college curriculum with a perfect 4.0. There is no single correct way to master course materials and a bit of trial and error is to be expected.

An excited and expanded mind is the higher education reward.

Let your children be the architect of their own success.

Ownership breeds responsibility. Students should select their courses with the help of their academic advisor and faculty. In most cases core requirements and the required classes specified for a major and will be the primary focus and be spread across eight semesters. The few elective slots will still be challenging so allow your child to dabble in another interest.  

There are no parent-teacher conferences in college.

Professors do not want to hear from parents. However, professors are eager to hear from students, so, remind your child the faculty is there to help them. Professors lament their empty office hours and are disappointed when students do not take advantage of their multiple and sincere offers of assistance. Multiple research studies have shown that students who build relationships with faculty members who share their interests are much more engaged in their studies and graduate at higher rates than those who don’t.

Please protect the last month of the semester.

In many college courses, up to 70 percent of the course grade is awarded in the last month. Do not distract your child with vacation plans, worries about finances, family events, or other activities during the crucial November-December and April-May periods. These are “make or break” times for your child. Respect them. 

The first night, week, month, and semester may be choppy. Chances are you will hear about all the misery and tribulations. In fact, your child may actually begin to talk about transferring, but we strongly recommend letting them struggle through to the end of the academic year. The exciting and engrossing activities typically outweigh the bad stuff, and many kids end up finding their niche sooner rather than later.

If you think your child is experiencing a dilemma, please resist the urge to solve the problem. Express your support and perhaps brainstorm options for assistance. If your son or daughter does not know how to find help on campus suggest they ask their Resident Advisor (RA). Every campus offers extensive student life resources. There are safety nets available for academic, physical, emotional, and any other problem you can conceive.

Problem solving skills are one of the unsung achievements earned at college.

The two most important aspects of college for your student are: 

  • That he or she develop a true interest to enjoy throughout life, and
  • That he or she develop a strong sense of independence. 

Let your child grow into his or her passion. Parents can now sit back and enjoy their rewards! 

Athletic Recruitment Process during Covid-19

Athletic Recruitment Process during Covid-19

By Dr. Dean Skarlis, President

Seeking to play a sport in college adds much more to the already complicated college admissions process. Students and parents need to educate themselves on the intricacies of the process. This has become even more important during the current Covid-19 crisis.

Are you really a college athlete?

Many of the students with whom we work play a sport in high school. For a variety of reasons, most of that group will not play in college. In fact, less than 7% will continue to play in college. Most decide not to, and some are not able to play at that level. When we work with a student athlete, we first ask them how likely they are to play at the college level. I can tell within the first 5 seconds of their answer whether they will or not.

Each student should first ask themselves how serious they are to play going forward. If the answer is a resounding yes, then the most important thing you should begin doing is contacting college coaches. I’ve seen some theories suggesting that athletes should start with as many as 60 colleges. I think that’s too high, but it does imply two things:

  • First, college coaches won’t find you, especially given the current crisis. You have to find them.
  • Second, you have to cover your bases. You can’t just send a few emails and hope one replies.

Working with Student Athletes

We work with 8-10 student athletes each year, and I tell each of them that they must mount a campaign to attract college coaches. This will be even more critical in today’s environment. More importantly, you have to evaluate which level at which you think you can play. This can be difficult, but it speaks to the importance of contacting many schools. Each athlete should have a list of colleges at the Division I, II, and III levels on their preliminary list. The importance of doing so is enhanced by our current situation, especially for those students who play a spring sport. Because some college seniors may stick around for another year, there may be fewer roster spots at each level, so making sure you look at all levels will help you find a spot.

While there is much uncertainty in the athletic recruitment process due to the current crisis, there is plenty of room for optimism going forward for high school juniors, sophomores, and freshmen. For example, one survey from “Front Rush” found that 66% of college coaches expected to maintain all athletic scholarships for their athletes. In addition, the survey revealed that 55% of coaches did not think their current college seniors would use their extra year of eligibility, which bodes well for current high school athletes. As you may know, the NCAA approved an extra year of eligibility for current college seniors who play spring sports like baseball and lacrosse. This means that some students may opt to spend another year in college next spring.

How COVID will Impact College Athletic Recruitment

We do believe that the current crisis will move back the recruitment process for all sports significantly. Many coaches have cancelled summer camps, showcases and ID camps. As a result, you need to step up your communication with coaches. Begin by sending them emails describing briefly the position you play, your club or travel team and other facts about your sport. If you’ve already been in contact with coaches, we recommend continuing the conversation. Each sport has its own recruitment rules, so we recommend checking the NCAA website. While you’re there, you should register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. Regardless of your sport or level, continued communication with coaches is essential.

Keep Your Grades Up

Most importantly, students should continue to learn and do well academically. No matter the sport, and no matter the level (Division I, II, or III), the first question most coaches will ask you is: “Do you have good grades?” This has not changed. And even though many colleges have now begun to offer test-optional admissions, athletes will still be required to take the SAT or ACT. The timing of taking these exams depends on your year in school and your academic curriculum, but in general, the earlier you take them the better.

Navigating the athletic recruitment process is fun, exciting and often challenging. There are many potential pitfalls that you must avoid for a successful outcome. In general terms, the earlier you engage with coaches, and the more communication you have with them, the better. If you or your child is an athlete who wants to play in college, please contact us today!

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

By Kathy Laberge, College Admissions Coach 

At the College Advisor of New York we are grinning in anticipation. This is the time of year we launch our writing season and we simply cannot wait!

Every coach on our staff devotes substantial effort to know their students well. When an applicant demonstrates their candidacy in an articulate, convincing, and original fashion they increase their chances for admission. As we have discussed in prior blog posts, this year we believe application essays will be of utmost importance to colleges. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced high schools into several unfortunate situations for the Class of 2021. These students, many of whom have been wholeheartedly devoted to their studies for the past several years, now find themselves without the concrete evidence of their earned success. Our staff is eager to reap the rewards of all this dedication. Our commitment to our students and our students’ commitment to their goals is sure to shine a spotlight on our applicants this fall in college admission offices. 

Coaching the Essay Process

The College Advisor of New York staff teaches our students how to demystify the varied writing statements and supplemental essays that are intrinsic to college applications. As admission professionals, we know exactly what colleges want to see in student writing. Equally important, we know what colleges do not want to see. We also understand that one size does not fit all, and therefore we coach our students to the best approach for each individual college. Every college application offers multiple, sometimes obscure, opportunities for personal comment. We know where to find these mysterious gems and how to employ them to the best advantage of our clients. Best of all, we think this is a lot of fun!

Our office has helped students write thousands of essays and no two are ever alike. There is no recognizable style or pattern we promote. Every student and every essay receives a deliberate, thoughtful approach, so the finished product is unique and personal. While we speak extensively with our clients before a pen ever touches paper (or a fingertip touches a key) we do operate by a set of guidelines. 

Colleges want to hear an authentic voice.

They also expect a writing sample commensurate with the other components of the student’s application and transcript. Parental editing and rewriting are visible within the first one hundred words. Revisions demanded by rubric minded English teachers do not serve our students well. Essays that are so reworked they are excruciatingly formal and formulaic are boring and tortured. Our students write essays that cause application readers to wake up and take notice. As a college writing coach that makes me very proud. 

Admission officers like college applicants

Students and parents often overlook one important piece of information. Here is the secret: Admission officers truly like college applicants. They appreciate every applicant,  and they want to admit every student. Their job is difficult because they need to choose which qualified members of their pool will not receive an offer of admission.

We are lucky to not suffer that problem at our office. We get to revel in the quirks of all our students. We are spectators to their self-discovery. We lead students from thinking of themselves as passive teenagers to sovereign and self-reliant young adults. We just finished celebrating our seniors from the Class of 2020 and we eagerly anticipate starting the process all over again.  

What will college campuses look like in the Fall of 2020?

By Kathy Laberge, College Admission Coach

That is an excellent question and one that is prominent in the minds of high school seniors, current college students, administrators, and faculty. One reputable higher ed survey indicates 10% of high school students no longer plan to attend a four-year university. This strikes fear in the heart of colleges and universities. Their business is education, and be assured, higher education is indeed a business.

Many colleges insist they will be open in the fall, even if only for distance instruction.

They are, understandably, not making firm announcements about residential opening just yet, but are busy planning for a variety of scenarios ranging from fully closed campuses to a return to life as usual. Asking for full tuition while not providing full value is obviously unattractive to parents and students. Conducting classes is required for economic survival and closed campuses mean an abrupt decline in income when classes, athletics, performances, and facility rentals no longer exist. The infamous packed lecture halls and crammed residence hall triples are not likely to happen this year, but colleges want and need their students to return.

Interactions between faculty and students cannot be replaced by virtual classrooms.

Lack of physical proximity widens the gap between faculty and student. Remote instruction allows students to multitask, chat, web surf, and tune out if the material is uninteresting. Conducting instruction off campus will significantly hamper the phenomenon known as the college experience. Yet proximity to fellow students is suddenly unsafe. Colleges are scrambling to compile the best solutions.  As they design a return to an open campus, administrators are considering that young adults generally do not suffer a severe impact of COVID-19. Campuses know they need to have testing and tracing measures in place.  Mass communications systems that enable instant community wide notifications already exist. Mask wearing can be enforced, handwashing can be strongly encouraged. Travel restrictions on faculty and students and staff can be put in place. The health gamble is a different story for faculty and other adults who interact with students; they are at a much higher risk. Yet data minded decision makers may choose to mitigate that risk with more brain than heart.

Creative potential options being discussed on campuses throughout the country include:

  • The fall semester may begin with distance learning and a plan to transition into residential instruction can be in place. It is far simpler for students and faculty to adjust from remote to live than it is to accommodate an unexpected campus exodus.
  • Fall start dates may be delayed to October, November, or even January. Conducting spring semester 2021 during the summer months is a possibility, and it would be helpful in keeping students on track for graduation within the traditional four-year course of study.
  • Hybrid learning is another option. Creating physical distance between students in classrooms is not terribly challenging. Instruction content for large lecture classes could be delivered both online and in smaller groups. Lecture halls filled with hundreds of students are not essentially conducive to interaction so there would be a decreased impact in this scenario assuming faculty access remains in place.
  • Shorter class terms may be successful, and they are already in place at a number of institutions. A semester of sixteen weeks may become a quartet of four-week terms. This academic calendar allows a deep dive into a subject. The study is intensive but flexible. Multiple beginning and end dates naturally lend themselves to interruptions and decrease the impact of an abrupt campus closure
  • Classes may be presented in a more seminar-style setting with fewer students per section and substantial physical free space around each student.
  • Campus returns may be staggered with freshmen arriving first and upperclassmen arriving later as they, presumably, can jump right back into learning. First year success is a predictor of graduation and this option allows freshmen to adapt to campus life with substantial support.

College offers far more than instruction.

Students spend a precious few hours in classrooms and far more time interacting in collaborative study or recreation. Closed campuses restrict research opportunities and forbid study abroad programs. Many students view the social component of college as an irreplaceable and indelible part of the campus experience. Campus traditions are intrinsic to the college experience. Student activities encourage interaction between like-minded peers. They are an opportunity to learn concurrently with students who share interests and passions, and they are an important component in campus life.

If a substantial number of high school graduates of 2020 choose to take a gap year, then colleges will be forced to handle essentially two incoming freshman classes. Colleges have already committed to the students who were initially to have arrived in August of 2020. We believe this population crunch indicates a more competitive admission process for the Class of 2021.

Happily, colleges and universities are intrinsically adept at nimble thinking.

This is the essence of what they represent! And under current conditions, they are strongly motivated to adapt and create innovative solutions.  It may look different than years past, but we are confident campuses will be accessible and students will thrive.  

Why College Admissions Essays Just Became More Important

By Dr. Dean Skarlis, Founder and President

In the college admissions world, there are many long-standing truths.  In terms of what counts most with respect to how admissions officers evaluate applicants, the three most important elements of an application are a student’s grade point average, their SAT or ACT score, and their essays and applications.  (In addition, the rigor of a student’s academic curriculum is critically important for those who seek entrance to highly selective colleges). 

No tests make essays more important

But the current Covid-19 crisis has caused a dramatic change for current high school juniors.  What’s different now is that a growing number of colleges are waiving or de-emphasizing their SAT/ACT requirements for at least one year due to the lack of availability of the admissions exams this spring and early summer.  As you may know, the March, May and June SAT and the April ACT exams were cancelled.  As of this writing, it is unclear as to whether the June ACT will also be cancelled.  Moreover, the July ACT and the August SAT are still up in the air.  In addition, many high schools have moved to pass/fail grading systems for the final portion of the current school year.

College essays and corresponding applications

As a result, college essays and corresponding applications will now be much more important.  This trend actually began about 15 years ago.  As the Common Application became more popular, and internet research began to avail students of more information about more colleges, students began to apply to more schools.  The resulting volume of applications was simply too much for admissions counselors to handle, so many schools dropped interview requirements.  College admissions counselors began to rely more heavily on a student’s essays to add a personal element to the otherwise highly objective decision-making process. 

The trend of more applications has continued.  According to the National Association of College Admission Counseling (NACAC), more than 36% of students applied to 7 or more colleges in 2019.  So a process that used to be highly personalized became much less so. 

But with the elimination of testing requirements and the implementation of a pass/fail system of grading, college essays instantly became more critical.  Many officials now speculate that the student’s writing will be the second most important piece of his/her application, following their academic GPA.

We coach students to write strong essays

For the past 16 years, we have spent considerable time each summer helping students conceive of and write strong, genuine admissions essays.  What will be different this year is that we have begun the process earlier – in May – primarily because students have more time, but also because we recognize the increased importance of helping students write more about who they are, so admissions officers understand them on a deeper, more personal level.  This requires our staff to get to know students on a one to one basis so we can help them illuminate what makes them unique, and why that’s important in their admissions applications.  This is our favorite part of the admissions process since it enables us to get to know students on such an intimate level.

Your College Essay needs to be Clearer, Crisper and Stronger

This year, more than ever, students will need to craft pieces that stand out among the pile of applications sitting on the desks of their evaluators.  Not only will their writing need to be stronger, but their message will need to be crisper and clearer.  There is, however, one cautionary note:  Many parents believe their student’s essay needs to be exceptional, if not perfect.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  In fact, the more honest and genuine a student’s writing is, the better their chances for admission.  We’ve seen far too many essays that seemed perfect, but were either not the student’s own work, or were so heavily edited that they caused an admission rejection.  This balance between strong writing and making certain that the student’s voice is clear is something we strike each year.  If you think your son or daughter needs help with this critical part of the process, please contact us here.