Traversing the Unknowns In the College Journey

If the world of college admissions was not already hard enough to decipher, 2020 might be a game-changer. Questions like "how do I get in?", "what do colleges look for in an applicant?", and "what should I do to make myself a competitive candidate?" still lurks in everyone's mind, and now are compounded with questions like "what do colleges mean when they say they are going "test-optional?" 

Will all of these changes create more access for students, or will they encourage more students to apply? The stats on whether 2020 graduates are deferring or declining acceptances and reapplying to schools in 2021 is still a moving data point. Simply put, there is no straightforward answer to predicting how the college application process will look in the next few years. The one constant in any college journey, however, is you, and the ability to know yourself, your strengths and interests, and the schools where you will thrive. Whether you're a DIY student who buys all of the "how to get into college books," one who talks to the high school counselors, or one looking for more support, just as in years past, there is still much that you as an applicant can control.

What You Can Control

How and when you incorporate college exploration into your life. This includes how much time you spend thinking and talking about college at home and with friends. Just because you're a high school student doesn't mean that your college journey needs to overtake your life. Instead, create a space during your week for your college search like you would for school, outside interests, friends, etc.  

Build time into your schedule to research colleges and assess which ones meet your requirements from learning the financial costs to curriculum and courses to campus culture. Sizing up the scale of a school, what it has to offer, and thinking about if you want to share a cup of matcha with your Professor or stay under the radar in a class of 300 is something you can learn through research.

Write up your list of preferences. Utilize an online search tool like College Scorecard, Collegexpress, or BigFuture and plug in parameters you want for your college experience. Don't leave any preferences off the table when looking for your best-fit school. These could range from attending a four year or two-year college, enrollment size, religious affiliation, private or public college, sports to watch, community engagement, career services, etc.  

Visit potential college choices. College visits may not be in-person during 2020 (or 2021), but you will learn a great deal by signing up for virtual tours, virtual information sessions, and virtual chats with student ambassadors (when offered). These visits also put you on a school's radar and may also get you on the school’s email list for the latest school news and updates.

Learn how to sit in on a Zoom meeting. There's no avoiding the virtual world in 2020, and one can easily guess that some iteration will remain going forward. Knowing online and Zoom etiquette, and developing the skills needed for meeting with Admission Reps and Professors can start now. Here are a few of the more straightforward tips: 

  • Dress as if you are attending an actual interview, which may include a Zoom shirt (and a shower, etc. beforehand)  

  • Choose an appropriate spot and a background for your Zoom meetings that does not include your bed or the floor. Treat a Zoom meeting the same as you would treat an in-person meeting.

  • Take notes. Decide in advance how you want to document what you learned and what was discussed. Do you need to keep another tab or screen view open or have paper and pencil?  

  • Turn off text messages and any other distractions.  

  • Let the other members of your home know in advance you will be participating in a meeting. Does your family need a sign that reads: “In Session”

Build a “big picture” approach to learning about colleges and universities. This will include discovering schools that you may never have heard of, but may offer precisely what you want for your college experience. Name familiarity is not enough to add a school to your college list. Familiar schools may be located in places you aren't sure you want to go to, may be financially prohibitive, or may not otherwise be a good fit. If you like a "brand-name" school consider finding other schools that offer similar majors, curriculums, and campus environments that will closer support your needs and goals.

Pay attention to Standardized Test requirements. For the 2020 application cycle, many schools have moved to a test-optional format, and some schools are incorporating a longer-term test-optional pilot program. Knowing whether you will need to submit test scores as part of your application depends on which schools you apply to. If you are just beginning your college journey, it may not be clear whether you will need to prepare for standardized tests. Finding reliable resources about standardized testing and what colleges require will provide more information to help you guide your choices and timing, and create a plan that reflects your strengths as an applicant.

2020 may also require you to think about what you can let go of during your college journey. Recognize that your college search will be different from your older siblings, cousins, and other family members. There is no one perfect school, and there are likely many schools that will support your goals and meet your college requirements. Understanding this, even as the world shifts around you, should remind you that your interests and goals for the future are still yours to pursue. Your goals and requirements may change as you learn more about what colleges offer, take new classes, or expand your experiences and that's ok. If anything, 2020 is teaching us that change is a constant and flexibility is vital.

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