Disclosure:: This post is sponsored by Episcopal School of Acadiana.
The College Search During COVID: Advice from a Veteran Counselor
In the first week of December, ESA college counselor Scott Chrysler hosted a meeting for current juniors and their parents to launch the college search process for the Class of 2022. Mr. Chrysler has been guiding ESA students through the process since 1997, but this year’s remarks included a focus on the impact of COVID. Here are some of the things he shared:
Colleges and universities are spending more resources on virtual information sessions and tours than ever before.
With so many students researching colleges virtually, the institutions have upped their games online. From student panels to 360-degree tours, virtual visits are much better than in the past. Virtual college fairs and college rep visits have increased too.
“For those of us at schools that are off the beaten path, virtual offerings are connecting our students with many more colleges and universities,” says Mr. Chrysler. Colleges that never sent a representative to visit a school in Acadiana are reaching out to set up virtual meetings through his office. In the past, students may have toured a variety of campuses to find their favorites. Now they can narrow their searches without leaving home.
Visiting a college campus is still the single most important thing a student can do – if it’s possible.
“Each school has an aura,” says Mr. Chrysler. “It’s a feeling you get when you step onto the campus and meet the students and faculty.” But in 2020, those visits have become much more difficult.
ESA senior Maggie Shuffler planned to visit several colleges last spring until COVID changed her plans. She ended up making a trip to the Northeast in September, but the campuses were empty. Classmate Luke LeGoullon had a similar experience touring universities in Florida over fall break.
“There were no tours and no students,” Luke says. “The campuses felt abandoned.”
To gather information, Maggie and Luke have searched the colleges’ websites and attended some virtual information sessions, but Maggie has found it much more helpful to speak with current students. She contacted friends, friends of friends, ESA alumni, and even a student she met through Instagram.
“It’s scary to reach out,” Maggie says, “but people love talking about their schools. I’ve called, facetimed, and emailed, and everyone has been happy to talk.”
Through the combination of walking around campuses and speaking with current students, Maggie has managed to get to know the colleges on her list despite the challenges of the pandemic.
As many colleges have gone test-optional, giving students the choice of whether or not to submit ACT and SAT scores, application essays have become more important.
Unlike high school transcripts and letters of recommendation, personal essays give students the chance to tell their own stories. “There are many ways to write a good essay,” says Mr. Chrysler. “but ultimately, you should make sure it’s genuine and true to who you are.”
The grades you earn during the spring of junior year are still the most important grades of your high school career.
For students applying early, these are the last grades an admissions team will see. Even if a student’s grades leading up to junior year aren’t impressive, showing improvement and maturity as a junior goes a long way.
And finally, the current challenges may be frustrating, but they won’t shut down the college process. There are many things in place to support students and families, and you’re not alone.