• Acing AP tests or final exams

    Worried about your upcoming AP tests or final exams?  In a normal year these exams can be anxiety producing, but this year that may be particularly true.  AP exams will now be offered in an online, open-note/open book format.  And as schools continue to cancel in person classes for the rest of the year, you may find yourself taking more online or modified final exams.    

    With all the information available to you, an online, open book exam should be easy right?  Surprisingly, that may not be the case.  Open book/open note exams usual push students to synthesize responses that demonstrate comprehension rather than just regurgitating facts.  You should expect questions which may ask you to apply concepts in new ways.  The CollegeBoard has put together a list of tips for preparing for online exams.  Ultimately, knowing the material and having organized notes/resources will be your best strategy.  This means you should continue to devote study time to your AP exams just as you would if you were taking them in person.      

    Thinking about scrapping the AP exams all together?  You are not required by the CollegeBoard to take the AP exam (although your high school may have different policies around this).  The main incentive for taking the exam is the possibility of college credit.  While many colleges are adopting test optional policies for admission, most have said that they will still award AP credit the same way they have in the past.  CollegeBoard has said that the AP exams will test content covered through early March.  You’ve already done the work for the exam; you just need to refine your skills.        

    Take Action 

    Find more tips and resources for preparing for AP exams on the CollegeBoard website.  You can apply these study tips to high school finals as well as future college exams.      

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  • Refocus

    People around the world are adapting to a new normal.  Businesses are reinventing themselves, restaurants are offering delivery and takeout options, television news and late-night shows are broadcasting from home, and colleges and schools across the US have adopted online learning formats.  Now that you may be settling in to a different routine, it’s time to refocus your efforts and adopt some new strategies regarding college admission.   

    Keep Your Grades Up 

    Many colleges have announced that they will waive the SAT/ACT requirements for Fall 2021 applications.  Some are also discussing how to view junior year grades given the abrupt change to online learning and some schools adopting pass/fail grading.  Although it’s impossible to predict how every college will review their applications, maintaining a high GPA is the best advice.  Check in with your teachers, ask for help, focus on doing your best with what’s asked of you. Having consistently strong grades or even an upward trend can only benefit you in the application process.  

    Study for AP Exams 

    The CollegeBoard announced that both the May and June SAT dates have been canceled.  This means you can stop thinking about the SAT for now.  Instead, focus your efforts on studying for any AP exams you may have.  AP exams will be given online meaning that you may want to prepare for the test a bit differently.  CollegeBoard has a list of helpful tips in preparing for an online, open book/open notes exam format.  Acing your AP exams is another way to show colleges your academic chops and potentially earn college credit saving yourself money and time in the future.           

    Consider Virtual Volunteering or other Self-driven Extracurriculars 

    With most school extracurriculars canceled, it’s time to rethink your activity list.  There are countless creative ways to demonstrate your skills or interests to a college.  Jodi Glou, founder and president of Custom College Consulting, compiled a great list of virtual volunteering opportunities.  Virtual volunteering is a great alternative to canceled summer plans and also an opportunity to use your skills to benefit organizations that may no longer have the in-person staff or funding to accomplish their mission.   

    Take Action 

    Don’t stress!  Andrew Palumbo, dean of admissions and financial aid at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass, wrote an open letter to high school juniors this week.  While he admits that there is a lot to worry about right now, he says grades and SAT scores shouldn’t be on that list.  His message to students: “We’ll figure it out together.”     

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  • Making a decision without making a visit

    Although many schools have postponed their enrollment deadlines, some are sticking to May 1 which is right around the corner.  You may still be weighing your enrollment options.  With college visits off the table, the choice may seem more difficult than ever.    How do you make a final decision without making a visit?     

    What’s in a visit
    College visits let you “see yourself on the campus.”  But what does this mean?   Usually this is code for “how do you feel about the school?”  or “what does your gut tell you?”.  Walking around campus on a sunny day elicits a feeling.  But feelings are more often about people rather than places.  That’s why counselors tell you not to visit on a holiday or a Sunday when there are often less people around.  The campus doesn’t “feel” right without people.   

    So – can you still evoke that same feeling without walking around?  Absolutely!  The campus may be closed but you can still connect with the same people.  Contact the admissions office to ask about your options – ask if you can talk with a student ambassador.  If possible, also talk with an advisor or professor in the academic area that interests you.  Check with your college counselor to find out if they know current students or alums from your high school or local community.  Talking with people – hearing their enthusiasm for the campus (or lack of) – will develop your intuition about a school.      

    Other things to consider 
    Going to college is a family affair.  Involve your parents and take their opinions to heart.  Together as a family, think back to what was most important when making your original list of colleges (things like – academics, location, size, activities).    

    Four aspects of “best fit”

    1. Academic: Does the college offer your major or field of study?  Are there a variety of options if you are undecided?  What will your class sizes be?  What academic support systems are in place if you need help?   
    2. Financial: Is it affordable, both for you and your family?  Have you been offered scholarships or grants, or will you need loans to cover the cost?  Do a cost comparison to see which colleges offer you the best financial aid.   
    3. Social: Harlan Cohen, author of “The Naked Roommate” talks about the importance of identifying PEOPLE and PLACES you will feel comfortable with on campus (see Harlan’s webinar, 7 Big Mistakes HS Seniors Make When Picking a College).  Who will your people and places be?   
    4. Physical: Take an online tour.  Review the campus website for other virtual options – 3D or VR experiences can give you a great perspective of the physical campus.  And don’t forget to ask about the weather and the surrounding area.    

    Take Action 
    Review your pro and con lists but give credence to your gut feeling as well.  As with any big choice, it should be made with your brain and your heart.  And once you make your enrollment decision, look forward with enthusiasm – don’t second guess yourself.  The college experience is what you make it.  Your attitude and ambition will determine your success as much as the college you select.   


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  • What problem do you want to solve?

    As “stay at home” orders continue on for many states, you may find yourself with some extra time on your hands.  Have you run out of puzzles, family game night getting old, have you reached the end of the internet?  Maybe it’s time to think about some of life’s big questions – like “what do you want to be when you grow up?”.  But before you start there, consider this advice from Jaime Casap.   

    Jaime Casap is the Education Evangelist at Google.  He promotes the power of technology and the web as tools to transform education.  He’s also an author and sought-after speaker and he has some different ideas around choosing a career path.  He says the question of “What do you want to be?”  is the wrong question.  What do you want to be leads you to pick a job that exists now.  But things are changing rapidly – that job may not exist in the future.  Instead, Jaime says to focus on the three questions below.   

    1. What problem do you want to solve? 
    2. How do you want to solve that problem?  
    3. What do you need to learn to solve that problem (knowledge, skills, and abilities)? 

    Check out this episode of his video blog for more detail as he travels to several locations to talk about this idea.  Fun tip – watch to the very end to see Jaime encounter a COVID appropriate piece of technology (even though this video was filmed a year ago).   

    Take Action 

    What problem do you want to solve?  Start small with a problem you could tackle right now.  It might not be your future career path but it’s a good exercise nonetheless.  Think about the unique perspective you can bring and check out some online resources (YouTube videos, websites or apps) that could help you build your skills.  Maybe the problem right now is your mom’s cooking.  If you solve that one – your family will thank you!     

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  • Decision Time – or is it?

    May 1 is traditionally National College Decision Day.  Typically, schools require that students choose where they will enroll by submitting an enrollment deposit on or before May 1.  That makes April – decision time.  Of course, this year things are feeling very different.  A large number of colleges have already extended their enrollment deadlines to June 1.  Making a college choice right now may feel difficult (or easy depending on where you were in the process).  Regardless, you might be asking yourself some of the questions below.     

    Can I ask for an extension?  

    Of course!  It doesn’t hurt to ask.  Although the college may still have a May 1 deadline, many have said they will make extensions on a case by case basis.  You could be waiting on a financial aid appeal, or for more information from one college that would affect your decision at another.  Make your case requesting an enrollment deadline extension in writing to the admissions office.   

    What if I’m on the waitlist?  

    Unfortunately for many students, it seems like colleges are sending lots of waitlist offers this year.  Forgive the sports metaphor – colleges want a deep bench in case their freshman enrollment numbers don’t play out the way they typically do.  Waitlist updates could continue throughout the summer.  As with every year, it’s best to send an enrollment deposit to a second-choice college that has admitted you even if you are on the waitlist at your first-choice.  There is no way to know if you will get accepted from the waitlist.   

    Maybe I should do a gap year?  

    It’s possible – if you truly feel that’s in your best interest and you have a plan.  However, this may not be the best choice if you weren’t already considering this before the pandemic.  Most colleges defer enrollment for only a small number of students and they usually consider those requests on a case by case basis.  You should have solid answers for these three questions:  1) why do you want to take a gap year; 2) how will you spend your time; and 3) what will you learn from your experience?   

    My school is not open, I haven’t talked to my counselor, what about my final transcript? 

    Colleges understand that these are exceptional circumstances.  No one in education has ever experienced a disruption of quite this level.  Although colleges require your final high school transcript as a proof of graduation (and most also review your final high school grades), allowances will surely be made to get those transcripts submitted.   

    We are doing online learning – they say our grades will be pass/fail.   

    Again, colleges are going to be making way for a lot of exceptions.  Don’t panic about final grades not looking like they normally would.  High schools across the country are doing their best in this unprecedented situation.  Colleges understand that.  Whether it’s sending unofficial documents via email, or extending the deadline, or waiving final grade requirements – submitting final enrollment paperwork may look differently this year.  The same will likely be true for orientation, housing contracts, and registration.    

    Take Action 

    The best advice for now is to stay informed.  Visit the admitted student websites (often) for the colleges you are considering, attend any online enrollment events, and read all of the email communication you receive from colleges!  Be in touch with your advisor (and your high school counselor) as they may have updates about changes to deadlines or policies.  And finally, NACAC is providing this online resource to students and families as a centralized place where you can check for updates on all your schools.   

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  • COVID Admissions

    The ripple effects of COVID-19 are just starting to make their impacts.  It’s safe to say that the coronavirus has upended the college admission process for the coming year.  You probably have a lot of questions and colleges are just starting to make adjustments to their admission process for next year.  Here are some of the topics that students and colleges are grappling with:  

    I was going to take the May SAT but it is canceled.  

    CollegeBoard and ACT have been monitoring the pandemic in an attempt to provide students with options.  Currently the June 6 SAT is still scheduled.  ACT has tests scheduled for June 13 (rescheduled from April) and July 18.  However, it’s true that you may only have one opportunity to take the test.  As a result, many colleges have announced they are going to be test optional (at least for the 2020-2021 application year).  FairTest has a list of test optional schools and schools that will be temporarily test optional.   

    All of my activities are canceled for spring – what should I put on my activity list?  

    Colleges understand – no sports, no spring performances, no student council or volunteer hours.  Your activity list may look a bit different than what you had planned.  Maybe it will include all the books you read while staying at home, a new language you taught yourself on Duolingo, or the tech support you offered your grandmother so you could all keep in touch.  If necessity is the mother of invention, maybe boredom is the mother of creativity.  Time to get creative.        

    We are doing online learning – they say our grades will be pass/fail.   

    Colleges are going to be making a lot of adjustments to the way they consider applications.  Don’t panic about your grades not looking like they normally would.  High schools across the country are doing their best in this unprecedented situation.  Many colleges are doing the same for their own students – offering them the option to have pass/fail grades.  They will be understanding of whatever your school decided for grading.   

    I think COVID-19 will make a great essay topic.  

    It’s possible that the pandemic has changed your school/life experience in dramatic ways.  It would be natural to think this would make a perfect college essay.  But don’t forget, many students are sharing this same experience. You want your college essay to stand out, attract attention, or be remembered by the admission staff.  Consider whether your experience or perspective is unique.  You don’t want to be just another coronavirus essay…    

    What about college visits?  

    Many juniors were planning college tours for spring break and those in person tours were likely canceled.  However, there are still plenty of opportunities to get to know a college.  Take an online tour, attend a virtual admission events, chat with student tour guides, follow a school on Instagram and comment on a post.  Not only does this help you gather information, but colleges also track these online connections as part of “demonstrated interest.”  Some colleges consider demonstrated interest in the admission process.  Hopefully, in person visits will resume in the fall.     

    Take Action 

    The best advice as always is to stay informed.  Visit the websites for the colleges you are considering to find updates on admission policies and requirements and be in touch with your advisor about changes to your upcoming applications.  NACAC is providing this online resource to students and families as a centralized place where you can check for updates on all your schools.   

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