Road Map for April: Freshmen


I’ll say the same thing everyone else is saying: during this difficult and uncertain time your top priority is to stay healthy and well, and to help those around you do the same.

If, like many of my students, you’re getting a lot of work from school, do your best to complete what you’re assigned. However, self-care means knowing your limits. If you’re generally struggling or have a specific challenge like a sick relative, financial difficulties or new family responsibilities, be sure to communicate with your teachers so they can accommodate you and give you space to meet your needs.

On the other hand, some of my students are suffering more from boredom and distancing from friends than from anything else. If that sounds more like you, taking care of yourself might mean creating a schedule to do your work, finding remote volunteer opportunities or getting creative about ways to connect with friends in a new way.

On the College Front

Fortunately, by the time you shift your attention to college, life should be more or less back to normal.  While there may be some long-term changes, you will not be traveling to visit schools, sitting for standardized tests, or completing applications without knowing whether you’ll be in school the following month.

And as far as preparation, colleges will continue to value the things they have always valued, and will continue to consider the context of your work when they evaluate you. High schools send a school profile along with every student’s transcript, which explains the curriculum and grading systems and describes the school’s community and demographics.  So if your high school decides to make classes pass/fail this spring, that will be explained and will not be held against you come application time.  Similarly, you will not be hurt by the fact that your activities are shut down right now.

What Else Should You Focus On?

As difficult as this experience is, we’re all learning about ourselves, the way we respond to challenge, and what we miss and care about the most. If you can use this time to grow and reflect on your interests and values, that information can inform the rest of your high school experience and your college search.  You also may be developing a new level of academic independence or improving your time management and planning skills. And if you’re not, that might be something to work on.

For Parents: Financial Aid

If you’re watching your 529 dip or are experiencing an even more pressing financial need like a loss of income, this might be a good time to review your financial plan for college. Schedule an appointment with your financial advisor to update your plan, keeping in mind that there is a two-year lag between the tax year you report on financial aid forms and the year your student starts college.  That means the Class of 2023 will report income from 2021, so ask your advisor whether there’s anything you might want to do this year to prepare before that initial reporting year starts.

You can also use the FAFSA4caster to estimate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is the starting point for calculating need-based financial aid.  Having your financial ducks in a row at the beginning of the college search will help students and parents identify schools that will be not only a good academic and personal fit but also a financial fit.