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Applying to a Top University (During a Pandemic)

You might be wondering what college admissions counselors are looking for in students now that everything is changing in college admissions as a result of the pandemic. For rising seniors, there are many things that didn’t go quite as expected. Perhaps you didn’t have your spring sports season or you never took the SAT/ACT. Maybe you didn’t get to be as involved in your extracurriculars as you would have liked or you didn’t get the internship you planned for this summer.

Regardless of how your junior year has been impacted, this summer is the best time to make up for it by being creative with your time and innovative in the way you begin to apply to universities. It must also be noted that admissions counselors realize and take into account all of the changes this global pandemic has provided. In later posts, I will break down the different components of your application that might allow you to stand out, such as essays, extracurriculars, etc. but for now, I will provide a general look at what admissions counselors are looking for and thus what you should highlight in your application.

1. Highlight the ways you were involved in your community, even during COVID-19

Admissions teams realize that things have changed, but what impresses them is showing that even when things haven’t gone the way you expected, you cared for your community. This could mean new responsibilities you had in your family or a new job to support your family. It could also mean ways you may have volunteered; maybe tutoring, supporting senior citizens, contract tracing. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need to work long hours at a food bank or working for instacart (though this is great). It might also mean highlighting your efforts to fight racial injustice through attending marches or just simply following social distancing guidelines and informing your friends as to why they should do the same.

2. Be genuine in your personal statement and supplements

This year (maybe more than ever), your applications essays will be very important. In general, essays provide admissions deans insight into your character, personality, hobbies, beliefs, and whether or not you would be a right fit for their institution. With many things limited in applications this year such as not having test scores, limited extracurricular/leadership opportunities, and different grading scales for GPAs, essays provide one equal measure across the board into who a student is and the potential they have in college. Make your personal statement and supplements personal.

3. Take advantage of this summer time to research colleges and try new things

The Summer before senior year is a great time to finalize your college list, set up your applications, and start brainstorming essays. It’s also a great time to explore your different interests and pick up new hobbies. You could use some of these hobbies and interests to put in your application such as doing an online class, volunteering in a political campaign, doing a remote internship, starting an online business, or starting a book. The key is demonstrating you were productive with your time. There is no singular activity or experience colleges are looking for since each student’s circumstances allow for different opportunities, but there is a great value in working, family responsibilities, and doing your best with the resources you have available.

4. Demonstrate you have the skills to succeed in college

This demonstration might be through your high grades throughout high school or skills you’ve learned in extracurriculars. Colleges know this year is different and that is why many have gone test optional for this admissions cycle. At the end of the day, colleges care more about an applicants’ academic performance and engagement than scores on a test.

5. Get organized and learn deadlines

Start early! I cannot say this enough. Though it may feel like a lot right now, if you decide to apply early, the rest of your senior year is freed up and you get decisions earlier! It also gives you more time to be smart with figuring out financial aid and applying to outside scholarships. After researching schools, look into their deadlines. Some schools, such as Princeton University have removed the early action deadline thus leaving only early decision and regular decision deadlines.

6. Practice self-care

This year has been full of economic struggles, losses, and many hardships. Now is the time to care for others and also your own health. Applying to college is a major milestone in a teenager’s life, but it isn’t the only thing happening. It's important to show that you are able to take a breath because balancing life and school is an important skill for college as well.

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