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Thursday, July 9, 2020

What 350+ Admissions Deans Say They're Looking for from the Class of 2021

This class has had a year like no other. As they apply for college, major questions are on the lips of everyone.

"I couldn't take the SAT or ACT last Spring. Now most of my schools are test optional. How will my application be viewed? Should I try to get a seat at one of the test dates this Fall? What happens if it's canceled, too?"

"How can I show my capabilities without Spring grades or test scores?"

Rising seniors are also missing those leadership activities and summer camps they had worked toward and planned on. Differentiating themselves from the other applicants will be more challenging without them.

Parents and students across the country are concerned. Clearly, this year's applications will look different from those of previous years.

College Admissions Deans Are Well Aware That This Year is DIFFERENT!

Harvard's Graduate School of Education put out a statement endorsed by over 350 admissions deans. (Read it here.)

Here are the top five values they identified:

1. Self-care - "We encourage all students to be gentle with themselves at this time." First and foremost, take care of yourself. It's a stressful time. Students are essential workers. Some have found themselves using their part time job's wages to help pay for the basics for their families. Everyone is disoriented by the many changes everyone is experiencing on an almost daily basis. Be good to yourself. Take walks. Exercise. Rest. Eat healthy foods. Pray. Read. Write a letter to a friend (on paper!) Take vitamins. Take care of a plant or a pet. Journal. Breathe. And, most certainly, don't freak out about application season! Work with a planner or coach, get help and support, allow yourself ample time to write your essays.

2. Academics - "No student will be disadvantaged because of a change in commitments or a change in plans because of this outbreak, their school’s decisions about transcripts, the absence of AP or IB tests, their lack of access to standardized tests..., or their inability to visit campus." They will read your application in context. Use the COVID 19 essay prompt to share the facts of your changed reality so they understand what your world has looked like since March.

3. Service - "What matters to us is whether students’ contribution or service is authentic and meaningful to them and to others, whether that contribution is writing regular notes to frontline workers or checking in with neighbors who are isolated. We will assess these contributions and service in the context of the obstacles students are facing. We also care about what students have learned from their contributions to others about themselves, their communities, and/or their country." While COVID has created many opportunities to serve, not everyone is able to do so. Authenticity, always the key factor in admissions, remains central. Be yourself. Be your best self. Don't do anything to try to impress admissions. Just be you, the real, wonderful, amazing you.

4. Family Contributions - "We view substantial family contributions as very important, and we encourage students to report them in their applications. It will only positively impact the review of their application during this time."  Some students have significant responsibilities at home while others do not. If you do, be sure to include them on your application. So often students don't think they are important or will be valued. They feel like they are at a disadvantage because they can't participate in other activities since they are busy at home. That isn't the case. As an example, I worked with a young man a couple of years ago whose only extracurricular was taking care of his grandmother and his mom. Mom had been taking care of Grandma then got injured at work and needed care. The student was responsible for making sure they were fed and got their medications on time, in addition to taking care of the house and doing all the cooking and the dishes. That's a lot of responsibility for a 16 year old! At my direction, he included it on his application and was accepted at a top honors college.

5. Extracurriculars & Summer Activities - "No student will be disadvantaged for not engaging in extracurricular activities. We also understand that many plans for summer have been impacted by this pandemic, and students will not be disadvantaged for lost possibilities for involvement." When you think about it, this is the only fair response to what's happened. It's such a relief to have them say it publicly, isn't it?

Remember, admissions staff has been working from home and had their lives altered significantly, too. So, keep in mind what is really important. Take good care of yourself. Take care of those you love. Help those you can when and how you can. And be your best self. But don't sweat the small stuff. Your intelligence, creativity, resilience, etc. will shine through, despite the impacts of the pandemic.

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