NS College Consulting Blog

Chances are, if you are a current high school junior, your entire world has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools are closed, classes have been moved online, and nation-wide tests postponed or cancelled all together. At times, it can be unbelievable that this is our new reality. 

It is likely that you did not envision your junior year ending in this fashion. You had dances, recitals and spring breaks to look forward to! Not only has your junior year been upended, but as our nation decides whether to ease back into normalcy or remain under restrictions, your senior year now hangs in the balance. 

Thankfully, there is good news! Colleges across the country are experiencing similar frustration and confusion as they decide how to navigate this season. Many institutions are facing difficult choices about how to recruit new students while keeping others committed during these months of lockdown. In fact, the large majority of leaders in college admissions are responding with a resounding, “We Get It”. 

Per his article by a similar title, Brennan Barnard jokes that “embrace uncertainty” could not only be the catch phrase for spring 2020, but the general theme of college admissions. Although admissions leaders may not be as well-versed in responding to a pandemic, many can relate this time to other remarkable seasons in years past. Their ability to weather the storms and make necessary adjustments should act as encouragement for you through this pandemic and the months that lie ahead. 

Perhaps you still have worries—it would be surprising if you did not! But just as admissions leaders around the US are extending encouragement to high school students like yourself, we wanted to address your worries head-on and provide some practical tips to conquer them.  

Five Fears You May Be Experiencing, and How to Capitalize on Them:

1 – My Test Was Cancelled

Standardized tests, one of the many methods colleges use to evaluate applications, have been cancelled, postponed, or moved virtual in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The College Board has shifted its upcoming test to August with hopes that it will still be offered in the in-person format. And, while the ACT remains silent on the probability of its June test, it is unlikely that it will occur, at least in many states. For many juniors like yourself, this raises the concern of not just when, but if you will be able sit for these important tests. 

In hopes to address the widespread concern of when and how the SAT and ACT will be offered, many universities have chosen to go ‘test-optional’ for the upcoming year. This simply means that applicants are not required to submit official test scores but can choose to if they have the ability to take the exam. If you are curious about whether the colleges you are interested in have adopted similar policies for the upcoming year, reach out to your counselor as soon as possible! 

While some schools have adopted temporary policies that may not require test scores, admissions leaders are still encouraging students to test if they have the ability to. In fact, having test scores could perhaps strengthen your application in ways they may not have in the past, and many schools still link test scores to merit scholarship eligibility. So, how do you prepare for a test that you don’t know the date of or where it will be located? 

Though it may be tempting, now is not the time to become lax in your preparation. Try your best to stick to the regimen you were following prior to COVID-19. Create a comfortable, quiet, space where you can study without distractions. Dedicate specific times each week to reviewing content and taking practice sections. In addition to your routine review, we recommend taking one practice test per every six hours of review, or once a month at a minimum. Devoting time to your preparation will ensure that you are ready for test day, even if you are unsure when that day will be. More than anything, make the decision to use your time at home wisely and continue to be disciplined—it will pay off in the end!

2 – My Grades Have Changed

In order to adjust for the variables associated with moving school online, many schools have made the decision to utilize a pass/fail grading system. Coupled with the stress of classes being taught virtually, students are finding themselves dedicating more hours and effort to coursework which may not be accurately expressed by a pass/fail grade. Thankfully, colleges and universities understand that this spring semester will have a huge asterisk next to it. Leaders are evaluating applications and amending policies, understanding that some circumstances, like pass/fail grades, are out of your control. 

Although this form of grading operates outside of the traditional four-point scale, many schools still provide students the option of taking a letter grade. This is certainly the best option for your GPA! Choosing to take a letter grade instead of pass/fail will also provide prospective colleges evidence of your abilities as a student and allow them to better gauge the rigor of your coursework. 

To get the most out of your semester, stick to your routines and find new ways to be successful in the virtual classroom. A great way to do this is by setting measurable, achievable goals for yourself at the start of every week. This will help you stay focused and spend more time on important tasks. Having measurable goals may also aid in the collegiate admissions process, as achieving these goals will provide you with confidence to reinforce your academic accomplishments from this semester. Goal setting will not only help you get through the end of this difficult junior year but is a skill that will benefit you for years to come! 

3 – My Technology is Unreliable

Rest assured that you are not the only student who has struggled with unreliable wi-fi connections and slow computers. In fact, many students across our nation are finding it difficult to acclimate to online learning. Some students have reported finishing up their spring semesters using only their cell phones as they are unable to access computers and broadband connections to support virtual learning. This issue has created fears for many students who are needing to meet deadlines, take online tests, or tune into video lectures at a certain time of day.  

If you find yourself without the technology or wi-fi connection you need to succeed during this semester, know that there are solutions for you! Many schools have allowed students to rent or share computers to aid in their online coursework. If you do not have access to a device, we recommend reaching out to your high school to see if this is an option for you. If you do have a laptop but lack the wi-fi strength to accommodate video calls and digital learning platforms, many college campuses have extended their visitor wi-fi connections to parking lots, allowing students to tap into their network from the comfort of their cars. Otherwise, look into bulk downloading assignments and worksheets using a wi-fi signal or the hotspot on your phone and then completing the majority of your school work offline. 

4 – My Season Was Ruined

The shutdowns associated with COVID-19 have likely affected more than just your academics. Many students are now feeling the pain of losing a sports season, a recital, or a final project they’d been preparing for over the course of the year. These extracurricular activities typically help bolster your application and give you an edge during the admissions process. But without them, how are you supposed to stand out? 

Colleges understand that your activities have been cancelled and will not hold it against you! Admissions committees are impressed not by the amount of activities on your resume, but the passion behind your involvement. That being said, remaining engaged amidst COVID-19 will set you apart from other students. 

Although your normal activities have been cancelled, look to stay involved in your local community. Utilize your individual skills and talents to help others during this time of isolation. Take advantage of this break from extracurricular activities to read books you have been wanting to explore, brush up on old hobbies or discover ways to keep expanding personally during this unprecedented time. 

5 – My Senior Year is Uncertain

As spring 2020 slowly fades into summer and your junior year comes to a close, you are probably wondering whether your upcoming senior year will look different than you imagined. Summer camps may be postponed or cancelled, college visits suspended, and school districts unsure about whether they will reopen for the fall semester. While it is easy to become discouraged, now is the time to get creative and innovative with your summer plans! 

Continue your college search, even while cooped up at home. Many institutions have developed virtual tours you can tune into through their websites or YouTube channels. Remaining focused on your future goals will help alleviate the stress of heading into an uncertain senior year.  

Although you may not know what the upcoming months have in store, choose to use this time to grow personally and academically. Seek out ways to expand yourself. Sign up for free, online courses where you learn about everything from literature to cooking. Take care of your health and continue to prioritize the people and hobbies that enrich your life. 

During this season of shutdown, we want to encourage you that no matter what the future has in store, do not allow this pandemic to put your dreams and goals on hold. 

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Senioritis hits students across the country at around the same time. As your senior year of high school draws to a close, it’s only natural for you to switch into autopilot mode. You’ve spent the last four years working harder than you’ve ever worked before toward your academic future.    Read more

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Up Close with College Applications

Time to Apply: Most applications are available to submit sometime between August and December of senior year. It is typically advantageous to apply earlier rather than later, and students should become familiar with the different deadline options available at each school.    Read more

In the final installment of our multipart blog series, we are focusing on helping answer a question we have been asked repeatedly throughout the years. How much academic rigor is enough? How many honors and AP classes are enough? For colleges practicing holistic admissions which focuses on the whole applicant rather than just strict numbers, the answer is always going to be, “It depends.” However, to add some context to what needs to be taken into consideration, North Shore College Consulting took time after this last application season to speak to admissions officers from around the country.. 

When pressed to answer these questions, admissions officers stated that the amount of rigor they want to see will first depend upon the high school the student is attending and what classes are offered there. In most cases, applications are read by territory reps who are well versed in each school they are assigned to and can evaluate the student within the context of the opportunities available to them. Some high schools offer 20+ AP options, while others may not offer any.

In a high school where AP courses are available, a student needs to find a load that allows them to balance their life. The student needs to drill down into who they are and what their goals are to determine what they should do.  More specifically, taking every possible AP course, but letting grades slip because the student cannot possibly get all of the work done can cause a low GPA that can be worrisome to an admissions officer. Similarly, overloading on rigorous courses, but not being able to get involved in activities outside the classroom is not displaying a favorable balance either. In addition to wanting to admit students who will be active in and out of the classroom, colleges are increasingly concerned with the mental health of their incoming students. They want students on their campus who are happy and secure.

This brings us to the next question. If a student is going to cut back on academic rigor, which courses should they cut back on?  Again, the ultimate answer will be, “It depends.” For instance, a student looking to major in a math or science field should probably focus on adding rigor in these subject areas.

Beyond the benefits that a student may see in the admissions process, parents are pushing students to take more and more AP classes because they think this will save them money in tuition. Unfortunately, this is not usually an accurate assumption. Each college and even each major within a college will have different rules about the score needed to award credit, the number of classes that can be skipped due to AP credits and even which AP credits they will accept at all. In addition, co-op programs, study abroad programs, and the all-too-common change in major may also create a need to take additional courses or stay on campus for semesters beyond the traditional four years.

The take away for the students applying to schools that practice holistic admissions is that the colleges want you to take the most rigorous courseload you can take to be successful while still allowing you to be active outside the classroom.  Schools want students who are both academically and personally successful.

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In Part Four of our multipart blog series focusing on lessons we took away from the unpredictability of 2018-2019 to make sense of the process for the upcoming application season, we are talking about the declining admissions rates around the country along with the growing benefit of early application plans.

UCLA received 111,266 undergraduate applications for the UCLA Class of 2023.  Although they haven’t released their admissions numbers yet, last year, UCLA hit its lowest admit rate of 14%. Assuming that the admissions rate remained at 14% again this year, UCLA accepted only 15,577 out of 111,266 applicants. While UCLA is the most applied to school in the country, application numbers are soaring with, by way of example, 64,000 students applying to NYU this year and over 65,000 students applying to the University of Michigan.

The increasing number of applications received by a college combined with an increasingly more competitive applicant pool have caused overall admit rates to rapidly decrease. In 2001, the overall admit rate of four-year colleges and universities in the US was 63.4%. In 2010, that admit rate dropped by almost 7% to 56.5% but still continues to hover around 56% overall.

With that said, admit rates at the country’s most competitive and well known universities and colleges continue to plummet. In 2001, the overall admit rate to the “most” competitive universities in our country (think Stanford, MIT, Ivy League) was 18.8%. In 2017, that dropped by over 11% to 7.4%. The admit rate at the next tier of most competitive schools in the US dropped from 31.7% in 2001 to 17.2% in 2017, and at the third tier, from 48.7% in 2001 to 32.6% in 2017.

In light of these numbers, more and more applicants are using early application plans such as Early Decision and Restrictive Early Action to boost their chances of admission. Often applicants feel that in order to have even a chance of admission to a highly selective school they have no choice but to strategically apply to their top choice using ED and/or EDII options. And, to be honest, often a highly qualified applicant’s best shot is to take advantage of Early Decision given the significant difference in Regular Decision and ED admit rates at most colleges, as well as the percentage of their freshman class colleges are now filling with ED applicants.

For the 2018-2019 application cycle, the Early Decision admit rate at Brown University was 21% compared with their 7.7% overall admit rate. Brown filled almost 45% of their freshman class with ED applicants. Vanderbilt accepted 20.6% of it ED applicants and only 9.6% overall, filling over 53% of their freshman class with ED applicants. Tulane University’s combined EDI and EDII admit rate was 32.2% and overall rate was 17% (which included non-binding Early Action applications) filling 28% of it’s freshman class with ED applications.

Early Decision isn’t for everyone and many things must be taken into account by the applicant and his family before applying ED, especially how applying ED impacts an applicant’s financial aid package. For many lucky students without financial limitations, however, the benefit of a significantly increased chance of admission to their first choice college often outweighs any potential negatives.

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As we continue our discussion on demonstrated interest, we wanted to dedicate Part Three of our multipart series to diving deeper into what colleges say about demonstrating interest. In a recent conversation with admissions officers from around the country, the consistent message shared from each college was that demonstrating interest is not just about checking off a list of things to do to make a college think you love them. Colleges can tell the difference between authentic interest and those applicants that are feigning interest. Demonstrated interest is not about “gaming the system,” but rather it is a true effort by students to learn more about a college.

The applicants that have done their due diligence in researching a college to make sure the school is a good fit for them will not have to worry about the college noticing their interest. In many cases, merely signing up for the mailing lists and opening the tracked emails is not enough. Reaching out to professors to learn more about a specific program, sitting in on a class while visiting campus, shadowing a current student, reaching out to the local admissions representatives, attending any local college fairs or information sessions, joining any online college fairs or live discussions, and interviewing when offered the opportunity will provide students with a deeper understanding of a college’s programs, strengths and values. This knowledge will ultimately show through in application essays and conversations with admissions officers.

While the interactions are tracked and sometimes assigned a point value in the admissions office, the true benefits of the applicant’s effort to learn more is invaluable. The effort to learn as much as possible about a college helps both the applicant and the college determine fit. Colleges want to make good, sound decisions for the benefit of the institution, but students should also place a high importance on making sure an institution is a match for them both socially and academically to ensure a future of comfort, happiness and success.

Students who put in the effort to research a college only to determine that a college is not a fit for them should never feel like they wasted their time. Not only did they learn more about themselves and potentially avoid ending up somewhere they would not thrive, but the steps a student takes will help boost confidence and build soft skills like interpersonal, communication and business skills that are so important in everyday life.

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Monday, June 10, 2019

College Admissions: 2019 in Review

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Beware of the High School Whirlpool

Friday, June 09, 2017

College Reflection (Guest Blog)

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North Shore College Consulting
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Highland Park, IL 60035


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