Road Map for April: Sophomores

During this challenging and uncertain time, the top priority is to take care of yourself—your physical health and general well-being—and those around you.

On the academic front, I have students who have a heavier workload than they did when they were going to school every day, and others who have received very little from their schools. Try to do what is asked of you as much as you can but know that colleges will be forgiving during this time.  If you have particular challenges in your situation or are just finding it generally difficult to cope with what we’re all experiencing, do what you need to do to take care of yourself, and let your teachers know, and you can share this information with colleges when the time comes. Everyone will understand.

What Won’t Change

The good news is that the impact on the college process should be minor for students in 10th grade, and the uncertainty should be limited. There may be changes, because colleges will learn from this experience, but they will continue to value the things they have always valued.

They will also continue to consider the context of your work. For example, if your high school is using a pass/fail grading system this spring, that will not hurt you in the admission process later.  Your school will share this information in its school profile, which will be part of your application file. Similarly, if you’re not able to complete your sports season, participate in your school theater production, or compete in your usual debate tournaments, admissions officials will understand why.

Having said that, if you are able to find creative ways to continue your activities or are using this opportunity to develop your interests in new ways, that’s information you can ultimately share with colleges.  It’s also a way to use this time to grow and reflect on what’s interesting and important to you, which can inform your college search.

What Might Change?

If you’re taking AP classes, you’re aware that AP exams will be held remotely this year. This was a surprise to most of us in the college admissions world.  What it means long-term is unclear, but with SAT and ACT exam dates canceled, the testing companies will be looking at every option to make these exams happen, and we might see some changes this year that could stick (though I doubt you will be able to take the SAT or ACT in your living room next year.)

A number of colleges have also announced new test-optional policies. Some of these are temporary for one, two or three years while others are not planning to go back.  Most students will still need to take the SAT or ACT, but it will be less important in admissions at many schools.

What Should You Be Doing Now?

Explore Yourself and Grow

As hard as this experience is, you’re probably developing academic skills you’ll need in college, like independence, time management, self-direction, and taking charge of your learning. And as I mentioned above, students are learning a lot about themselves now and what’s important to them.

Explore Colleges

I generally recommend that students do at least a couple of college visits by the end of 10th grade. While spring tours are not happening this year, you can take advantage of virtual information sessions that colleges are offering, or virtual tours you can find on sites like YouVisit, YouniversityTV, or CampusReel.  Check out my March 11 post for some other ideas about how to learn about colleges, and understand that at this phase, your goal is to get a sense of what’s out there,  what kind of college experience you’ll be looking for, and what criteria you might have for colleges that will give you that experience.  You can also plan ahead for visits in late summer and fall when we expect tour schedules to resume, as well as fall college fairs in your area.

Understand Financial Aid

This part is for parents: now is a good time to revisit your financial planning for college, especially if you are experiencing a change in financial circumstances.  If you have a financial advisor, schedule an appointment to review and update your plan. You should be aware that there is a two-year lag between the tax year you report on financial aid forms and the year your student actually starts college.  In other words, the Class of 2022 will report family income from 2020.  For many of you, this will be a tough financial year.  That might mean you’re eligible for more need-based aid, but you should also be aware that you’ll file the forms every year, so if your financial situation improves you may not be offered the same level of aid in subsequent years.

A couple things you can do on your own are to use the FAFSA4caster to estimate your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is the starting point for many colleges in calculating your financial need.  Then check out some net price calculators, which colleges are required to have on their websites, to see what kind of aid you can expect different schools to offer.  If the calculator asks for just your financial information, it’s considering only need-based aid, but if it also asks about the student’s grades and test scores, it might give you information about potential merit-based aid as well.  This information will help you identify schools that will be a good fit not only for academics and campus culture but also for affordability.