Back to Blog

Questions: Cancellations, College, COVID, & You

2020 applications college college prep college selection college visits covid covid-19 freshman high school junior senior sophomore Jul 08, 2020

Questions: Cancellations, College, COVID, & You 

On New Years' Day, I don't think that any of us expected to be where we are. I don't think that any of us expected to become mask-wearing, social distancing experts. I don't think parents expected to become homeschooling experts. I don't think our students expected to miss out on so many high school memories. But here we are, with more questions than answers and a lot of uncertainty in front of us.

Luckily, you have me. 

In this issue, we are going to discuss what you should focus on as your child approaches their senior year and how you can ensure that your child has every possible opportunity moving forward while keeping in mind the goal of reducing their future cost of college. My goal is to inform parents so that they can feel a sense of control around the critical decisions that will affect both them and their child for the next several years.

First thing's first: We need to have a plan

You and your child have worked for years, envisioning the anticipation that senior year brings— college applications, decisions, prom, sports, awards, scholarships— but this year is different. You may not have had a chance to visit schools in order to properly make that critical decision of where to spend that $100,000 (or more) on college expenses so that your son or daughter can pursue their most ambitious career goals.

At this point, with the second semester of junior year cancelled, their focus most likely has shifted to the immediate changes and the challenges that those changes have brought. They may have lost track of their overall goal so they can deal with the short-term changes. 

So how do you know if you and your child are on the right track, or if you are missing out on critical aspects of the career selection, college selection, and the college/scholarship application process?

Working backwards from their goal to set all of the pieces in place is a great way to start.

The Plan

  1. College planning is much like planning a vacation— you begin with the end in mind. 

    What is your child’s career goal? Are they thinking about a career in business? Nursing? Communications? Actuarial Science? Engineering? Or one of the other 500 plus options? Yes, 500 plus— a big number, and if your son or daughter doesn’t approach college with a sense of what they want to achieve, you could end up paying a hefty sum while they “try out” different possible majors/ career options.

    The national average for a 4-year degree is currently 6-years. That doesn't make much sense, does it? But when you factor in switching majors, needing to schedule in new gen ed classes, and other factors, it adds up. Did you factor in the extra two years of tuition?  Most parents do not.

    The easiest way to avoid over-spending on college is exposing your child to a wide variety of career options before they enter college so they at least have an understanding of their options. Many high school students have an extremely limited view of possible careers as their guidance counselors give very limited if any career advice and that advice generally only discusses the typical “Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer, etc...” However, there are millions of different viable career paths that students can take. In college this becomes apparent and is overwhelming. Students don’t have the time to take a step back and analyze the pros and cons of each career option and pick a major accordingly. They often end up “trying out” different majors, sometimes even ones without a viable career path as the final destination. This ends up costing families tens-of-thousands of dollars.

    While most parents worry that asking a 17 or 18 year old to make a career decision would be overwhelming for them, many students who are given a true say in planning their future take greater ownership and have better overall outcomes. It’s critical that kids have the information they need so they can understand their options, can make their own choices, and feel a sense of purpose and ownership with their college selection, while still being under the overall guidance of their parents. Once again, ownership over their destination often results in a more motivated student which is a good thing as they experience much more freedom in college.

  2. Determining which college is the best fit is the next step in the plan. 

    The first thing you need to do is to determine that the school offers the major that your child is interest in. That should always be the starting point. If the school doesn't have the program that they are interested in, what's the point of applying?

    After you determine that yes, the schools in question have the program that they want, you can start considering other factors. All schools are not the same, and several factors beyond major must be considered, such as:
    • Geographic Size
    • Location
    • Class Size
    • Distance from home
    • What kind of area is it in? Urban, rural, suburban, a strictly college town?
    • Greek Life, Study Abroad, Sports (to watch or participate in), Theatre/Dance/Band, clubs, and activities 
    • Political environment. More and more students are expressing a desire for both liberal and conservative campuses, which means it is becoming more important that others on campus align with their values. 
    • Admission requirements. Determining whether your son or daughter is a good fit based on their GPA and ACT/SAT scores is important!

  3. Visiting college campuses is critical for your son or daughter to determine if a school can become home for them. 

    Students who feel at home on campus are more likely to excel. Joining clubs, participating in things outside of class, get to know their professors— all things that will impact their job placement opportunities or grad school applications. Many schools have been pushing out “virtual tours”; however, this gives a very limited view of the campus and may describe the buildings and programs. Actually seeing a campus can completely make or break your child's opinion of that school. Many students have reported that they “fell in love” with a campus after they visited because of the people and atmosphere, while others have marked off colleges as “not an option” after having a negative experience while visiting.
    In “adult terms”, you most likely wouldn’t buy a house based on the video tour online. Likewise, you shouldn’t plan to spend over $100,000 on college based on a virtual tour.

    Unfortunately, the class of 2021 is once again at a disadvantage if they did not start visiting schools early in their high school career. Depending on the trajectory of the current pandemic, you should try to schedule college visits for this fall in order to give your child that in person experience. If you can't schedule a visit to a school in person, see if there is any way to schedule a one-on-one virtual tour. This will give you and our child the chance to ask questions and get a personal view of the school.

    At this point, try to schedule your visits as schools open. The University of Toledo is already allowing in-person tours. While on the tour, your child should request to meet with the chair or head of the department that they plan to major in. The chairs's focus for their program may be dramatically different than your child expects— which could make the school a poor choice, despite enjoying the campus.  

    Once you have a list of schools, it is important to know their requirements— what test scores do they typically admit? What GPA? What high school credits should they have? Imagine if your child understood this as a HS freshman. How would that impact their drive to earn A’s? It is never too early to begin the discussion!

    If you have a younger child, it is a great idea to start visiting college campuses while on vacation during their freshman year in high school.  Allowing them to see several options will help them determine which is truly the best type of school for them. 

    4. Test Scores are important— even if a school says it's test optional!

    To give your child the best opportunity to earn admission to their top school and save you money through scholarships, you must begin the testing process early. We highly recommend starting at the end of sophomore year to get a baseline and allow ample time to prep around your child’s hectic schedule.  

    Today with Covid, many students are feeling too much pressure as they may have only taken one test so far, and have had their opportunity to take tests in April, May, June, and now July cancelled on them. This puts them at a huge disadvantage as they begin their senior year unsure if they will gain admission to their first choice school, and the September test feeling like a do or die situation. Students who have had the opportunity to take the test 2-3 times often have exceeded their desired score and can approach the application process with confidence.

    The best thing that students can do is turn this unfortunate situation into an opportunity to spend extra time preparing for the September test. 

    5. Begin applying as early as possible. Next week we will discuss the timing and expectations for applications!

What does "TEST OPTIONAL" really mean...?

Test optional means you do not need a test score attached to your application for your application to be considered complete and reviewed for admission. It does not mean that students without a test score will be reviewed in the same way. Unfortunately, human judgment will still play a huge role in admission decisions this coming application cycle. So much so, that many admission reps at selective schools will tell you that if they took all of their applicants and spread them out in a room again, they are likely to select different students, because the majority of their applicants are so similar in grades, test scores, resumes, and awards.

Let's think about this year.

As we said, it is very frustrating to have test after test after test cancelled, often at the last possible minute. However, after talking to the numerous students that this has happened to, it has been clear that students are taking these “setbacks” in stride and are not necessarily upset by the change in plans. They're much more likely to shrug it off and shift their focus to the next test.

Parents, however, are really struggling, as they have to, yet again, alter their schedule and take time to decipher messages from the ACT to see if the test is truly cancelled or if it is just their site that is cancelled. Some parents have had to sit on hold for 2 hours or more to attempt to switch their child’s testing location, while others have already made plans to sign up for the next available test. However, some parents have resorted to saying, “well, does it really matter since so many schools are going test optional?” 

Let's be blunt:  yes it does.

Test optional— Scenario

Consider 10 students from your child’s high school, all hovering around a 4.0 GPA. Each student has a similar list of activities. They all want to go to the same school. 

Imagine that the college is expecting to take 5 students from that particular high school this year. Of the 10 applicants from that school, who all look similar based on grades and their resume, 7 submit test scores. Out of these 7 students, 4 have scores over 29, and the other three have scores of 28. As an admissions rep, the 4 who have over a 29 ACT would most likely get in, leaving one last spot open. This last spot could be filled by one of the students that the school knows scored a 28 on the ACT, or by a student without a score.

Do you think a school would be more likely to admit a student that they know has a solid ACT score, which suggests that they would be a strong candidate and successful in college, or a student without a score measuring their ability? Sure, the student without the score may be just as— or even more!— capable as the student with the score, but admissions reps won't know that. 

Several parents have said, “yeah, but wont colleges understand?” 

Yes and no. Many students have had the chance to take the test, and most importantly EVERYONE has the chance to take it in SEPTEMBER. If you do not apply early and check the box that you are sitting for the September test, it is as though you have already thrown in the towel, given up, and think your grades and activities will make you stand out enough to compete.

Remember, your child is not just competing against other students from their high school; they are competing against students from all over the country. Give them a leg up over their peers.