College Counseling During COVID-19

The COVID-19 shutdown is upending college planning, particularly for juniors and seniors. PCD's Director of College Counseling, Terry Ward, acknowledges "This is terra incognita for absolutely everybody. It's understandable to be a little on edge about it." However, it is also important to remember that it is in the interest of both students and colleges to make the best of the current situation. As Ward says, "Everybody's trying to help out here."

This article aims to provide guidance and information to PCD students and families as they navigate the college process. Since this is such an unprecedented and constantly evolving situation, however, remember to keep tabs on sources you trust. Bookmark PCD's college counseling webpage, college testing sites, and the websites of schools in which you are interested and check them frequently. Ward is also available to discuss any questions or concerns, just as he would be if everyone were on campus.

First of all, congratulations to the PCD senior class on your college acceptances! Your hard work at school and throughout the college application process is to be commended. What happens now though, with COVID-19? Fortunately, seniors only have a few tasks left to complete amid the pandemic. For more information, check out the Senior-Year Calendar on PCD's College Counseling page.

- Deciding On a School
If you have multiple acceptances to decide between, it may be a point of frustration that you're unable to visit the schools in order to help make your decision. Colleges and universities are aware of this issue and are busy putting together online resources to help inform decisions, says Ward. "Colleges are going to try to do what they can to accommodate."

With that in mind, be sure to look carefully at online resources potential schools are offering. This may include going on virtual tours and following social media accounts. It's also possible to learn a lot about the area surrounding a school by looking at Google Maps or Google Earth satellite imagery.

Some schools are also pushing back their decision deadlines, sometimes as far as June 1. Be sure to check for current information directly from your school(s).

- AP Exams
AP Exams (which also concern juniors and some sophomores) have been moved to a 45-minute online format and will now be completed on a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Exams will take place from May 11th to May 22nd and there is still a schedule you will need to follow. You can find your exam date, time, and additional details here.

The College Board is communicating directly with students who have registered for tests. The College Board also "pumps out a lot of material," Ward says. "There is a lot to be gained at the College Board website for anyone who has any questions about the AP." The organization is also providing free, live AP review lessons on YouTube.

- Keep an Eye on Autumn
It is not known yet whether colleges and universities will be able to have students on campus this fall. Keep an eye on school websites and be ready to be flexible. "We have to ride with it," says Ward. "We're floating down the river and we don't know what's around the next bend."

Since juniors are in the middle of preparing college applications, COVID-19 will affect their experience. Although it is reasonable to be anxious about how COVID-19 might change applying to college, says Ward, institutions also want juniors to understand, "'if you don't bat, we can't pitch.' If there are no students, colleges can't go on. Colleges are quite dependent on attracting students to their campuses. That's important to keep in mind. They're going to try to do what they can to accommodate."

Ward has provided an overview of what juniors and their families should be working on, and what may be changed due to the pandemic. Remember to also check the Junior-Year Calendar on PCD's College Counseling page.

- Meetings with Mr. Ward
This has changed slightly. Pre-COVID-19, Ward always met with parents after spring break to discuss the college application process. These meetings have all been moved to Zoom, but are otherwise unchanged.

- Assignments and Documents for Mr. Ward
These are unchanged and include the Common Application Essay, Student Self-Audit, and Parental Statement. The rough draft of the common application essay has been assigned and is due to Ward by May 15. Student Self-Audits and Parental Statements are due as soon as possible.

- Selecting Schools—And Visiting Schools
This has and hasn't changed! As usual, Mr. Ward will still be supplying each student with a list of potential schools by June. However, many spring break trips to see schools were canceled, and if campuses are still closed in the summer (which may be likely), it will be necessary to visit schools virtually. Check out virtual tours, social media feeds, Google Maps, and see if it's possible to talk to professors or current students.

- College Testing
In preparation for applying to college, it is recommended that juniors take the SAT or ACT, and AP exams (if AP courses were completed this year).

The March, May, and June SATs have all been postponed for health and safety reasons. The College Board is currently planning to offer SATs every month beginning in August, with registration for these exams opening in May. This will be the first time the College Board has ever offered an SAT exam in September. This is an evolving situation and the most current information can be found at SAT COVID-19 Updates.

The April ACT is currently being rescheduled to June. If you were registered for the April exam, you should be receiving instructions for rescheduling to a future test date. This is also an evolving situation; keep up with current information by bookmarking the ACT COVID-19 Updates page.

- AP Exams, as mentioned previously, have been moved to an online format and will take place from May 11th to May 22nd. Your exam date, time, and additional details are available here.

In an effort to assist students, all three exams are increasing free access to practice tests, webinars, and educational materials. Check out their websites for information. Ward recommends taking advantage of these free resources and dedicating extra time to preparing for the exams, particularly if there will be fewer opportunities to take them.

Grading and Leadership Roles
PCD has adopted a Pass/Fail or Pass/Incomplete grading system for virtual learning and Ward is confident that colleges will work with students regardless of their school's system of grading. Ward has been attending webinars with colleges and universities in which they have emphasized that they would give students the benefit of the doubt, work with schools, and "not let any sort of grading arrangements be a deterrent or hurt students in any way. In general, colleges are really going to be flexible about trying to evaluate this term."

The COVID-19 shutdown is also causing the cancellation of sports, school organizations, and extracurricular activities at a time when juniors typically take on leadership roles in preparation for college applications. After meetings with colleges and universities on this topic, Ward says, "There's no question that that's an opportunity that just isn't there. The colleges have acknowledged that they understand and they'll work with the students on that."

The Bottom Line
COVID-19 is causing unprecedented situations for both schools and students, and navigating the college process during such an unpredictable and quickly evolving climate may feel difficult. Remember that it is in the best interest of colleges to work with students and find positive outcomes for everyone. Ward will provide updates as the situation develops, but also be sure to continue checking PCD's College Counseling page, testing sites (such as the SAT, ACT, and AP), and college websites for the most current information. Remember as well that Mr. Ward is always available to answer any questions or concerns.

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