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Focusing on College Applications: Emerging from the Cloud of COVID-19

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

We are sharing the main takeaways from our College Application Webinar on 7/8/20 so that both participants and non-participants benefit from the most up-to-date information regarding the college application process. The main areas of the process that we reviewed were standardized testing, college search, personal essay and Common Application, and application supplements. We have shared the main takeaways below and provided helpful resources.


Standardized Testing


According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, more than half of all 4-year colleges and universities will not require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores for fall 2021 admission. More than 1,240 institutions have moved to a test-optional policy, including the Ivy League and 85% of U.S. News “Top 100” national liberal arts colleges.


A test-optional model allows students to submit scores, but it does not penalize students who do not submit scores. Many students who were planning on taking tests earlier this year on dates that have been cancelled due to COVID will not be penalized if they are not able to make up those tests.


There are many schools that had already moved to a test-optional policy before COVID-19 and many who are only introducing this policy for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. It is important to verify the policy for each school you intend to apply to, especially if your student is a rising junior. That information can typically be found on a school’s website.


Students should continue to prepare for these tests despite these significant changes. It is important that students maintain a consistent test preparation schedule so that they are ready to take the tests during the next confirmed administration.


There will be an opportunity within the Common Application to share how you may have been affected by the events of this year, including explaining any disruption to your testing plans.


The College Search


Most admissions offices have moved to virtual tours and information sessions. As summer programs, jobs, internships, and travel have been cancelled or moved to an online platform, students may have more time to commit to researching schools.


It is important that you not feel that you need to research every single school. We recommend building this research into the structure of the day. A student can make it a goal to research 2-3 schools a week and take advantage of webinars, online chats, or other opportunities. This approach will help you stay organized and minimize any stress from feeling overwhelmed about the number of options. Students should keep a journal to document what they liked or disliked about a school or program after each admissions session. Not only will this help you keep track of your research, it will be helpful when it comes to completing any required application supplements.


Even though students are not able to visit campus, engaging with admission offices through these virtual platforms will help students demonstrate their interest in the school.

This is called demonstrated interest. Admissions counselors use demonstrated interest to understand how much prospective students are engaging with the school during the admissions process. The primary goal of tracking demonstrated interest is to understand the likelihood of a student enrolling if admitted.


The Personal Essay and The Common Application


As summer programs, jobs, internships, and travel have been cancelled or moved to an online platform, now is a great time to select a prompt to respond to, outline your essay, and start developing drafts. The Common Application announced that the 2020-2021 essay prompts will remain the same as the 2019–2020 essay prompts. You can access the prompts by clicking on this link.


The Common Application officially opens on August 1st, so students can plan to begin working on their application during the month of August.


We highly recommend taking advantage of the summer break and limited extracurricular opportunities. Assigning a couple of hours each week over the summer to working on the essay and the application helps to reduce some of the stress of producing a final draft, especially for students who have anxiety about the writing process.


Especially for anxious students or students who struggle with executive function,

producing a final draft of your essay and working on your application ahead of your senior year allows you to focus on any required supplemental pieces of your different applications in the fall when these main portions are complete.


Application Supplements


Hopefully by the end of the summer, you will have a solid, near-final draft of your personal essay and application, so you should have the time in the fall to complete the Common Application, work on supplemental essays, and participate in optional or required interviews.


Supplemental essays are responses to school-specific questions developed by the admission office, sometimes with input from current students. One of the most common questions schools ask is, "Why do you want to come to our school?" If you have taken advantage of virtual visit programs, spoken with admission officers or current students, and spent time learning about the school, and kept helpful notes, you should be equipped to answer this question and make it unique to your experience.


As students work on parts of their applications this summer, they can use their unanticipated free time to identify the schools that require these application supplements.

It is still quite uncertain as to what the 2020-2021 school year will look like for students.

Identifying the schools that require these application supplements and creating a plan to complete can help relieve some of the anxiety around this uncertainty.

It is always a pleasure to assist you and your teenager with the college process. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any questions. We can be reached at 212-426-3742 or

Resources for Families

Education Dive

The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC)

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing

Focusing on College Applications Emergi
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