Road Map for June: Juniors

If college planning has been on the back burner while you’ve contended with online classes and AP exams, let me reassure you that you’re not alone. I’ve been advising students to focus on school while it’s in session, knowing that we’ll have lots of time to focus on college this summer. One thing you should do before your teachers go offline for the summer is request recommendations. Other than that, however, most of my students had put college on hold and are just starting to turn their attention back to their lists and applications as the school year wraps up.

What I have been getting questions about is standardized testing, especially since the SAT and ACT both released updates in the past week and both have been an absolute mess. SAT registration opened and students were met with a variety of technical problems the first day.  After those were worked out, the College Board admitted that limited availability of test sites may mean students in some regions won’t be able to find seats for the exams they were planning to take. CB then announced it would not offer an at-home test as previously planned (presumably a response to their disastrous at-home AP exam administration), and asked colleges to offer testing flexibility for the Class of ’21.  Meanwhile, ACT planned to go ahead with June testing wherever possible, then closed 2/3 of the test sites in the country and published the list of closures in a format hardly anyone could decipher. They also issued these guidelines for test-day social distancing and appear to be going ahead with the debut of an at-home ACT this fall.

So what am I advising? First, there is no urgency to test in June! Second, Dartmouth, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania made test-optional announcements within 48 hours of the College Board’s “flexibility” statement and more colleges are expected to do so, in addition to the 1200+ that are already test-optional for this class. In my view, depending on your situation, you may be able to take a step back from all of this. While I can’t offer a blanket get-out-of-testing-free card to the Class of ’21 (yet) I think it’s reasonable to slow down and see how things develop, keeping your college list close at hand and checking your schools’ policies as things unfold.  If you’ve already invested in test prep, great—you very well may be able to test, it may make sense to test, and it may benefit you to test. I will be advising students based on their individual needs and goals as more information becomes available.

And if you don’t have a working college list yet? Then that’s your next step.  I’ve been advising students since March to broaden their lists to respond to the higher level of unpredictability we’ll be seeing, and was pleased to see that advice repeated in this article.  Take an end-of-school break, and then focus on college research, including virtual tours and information sessions.

Your other next steps are the things you’ll have to do no matter what happens with testing and no matter which colleges wind up on your list.  Get started on the Common App and your personal statement.  The Common App essay prompts are the same as last year’s, including a “topic of your choice” option, and I’m pleased that they’ve added an optional COVID-19 question to allow students to share any information they feel is relevant. You might also need to use the Coalition Application for certain colleges that don’t use the Common App (like the Universities of Maryland, Washington and Florida, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Rutgers and JMU, among others.) Need help getting started? Check out my summer application and essay workshops, or contact me to schedule a custom workshop for a group or work with me one-on-one in the coming weeks and months.