High Schoolers getting a “Gap Year”? College Application preparedness in the age of COVID.

May 29, 2020

Contagion. Outbreak. Containment. Viral. The Hot Zone. Not just movies any more, these are the realities on the ground (or soon to be) for most of us today. As schools and colleges shut down, and the economy grinds to a (temporary) halt, college admissions may not be top of mind for many. But unlike the toilet-paper crisis of 2020 ;^), which is likely just a passing phase, if you’re caught unprepared for college applications and the additional diligence they will require, the impact will be much more serious and far reaching.

Transcripts. Standardized Test Scores. Recommendations. Extracurricular Activities. Essays. These are the main components of a college application. And the sooner you adapt to the new realities for each of them in the post-Covid, social-distancing world, the better prepared you will be for what may be the single most life-altering trajectory of your life.

Transcripts reflect schoolwork. As schools shut down, or shift to remote instruction, it puts even more burden on students to be disciplined and diligent in keeping up with their studies. Without close supervision from teachers, it is all too easy to fall into a routine that is more relaxed. Take the time at home to explore your interests on the web and develop deeper understanding in areas of particular interest. Pay attention if you do have remote classes, and stay engaged throughout the session. Do your homework even if it is optional, so you can ask better questions in the next session. Search for opportunities to work remotely – in today’s knowledge economy, many such opportunities are available to motivated and driven students. If you’re interested in healthcare, for example, make contact with academics and clinicians researching in your field, and offer to be a remote resource to help them during this stressful period where they have resource constraints.

Standardized Test Centers are shutting down – tests are being canceled. Perhaps they’ll reopen but with a limited schedule to limit crowding, so stay on top of those dates and prepare using online resources like Khan Academy and others, so you’re ready and flexible about your dates when they do become available. You don’t want to miss out on a year due to inflexibility on this front. Keep in mind that if the crisis persists, colleges may reduce classes as well, and the class of 2020 may have to compete with the class of 2021 for the same few spots in colleges.

Recommendations are perhaps the most influential of the components of a college application, and the effective ones reflect the relationships you have with your teachers and coaches and their insights into your unique strengths. It is challenging to keep in touch with them under today’s conditions, but critical to stay top of mind, and to remind them of your accomplishments and contributions in the classroom and in the team. Use online platforms like spikeview that are specifically designed for such interaction. You may need to request your coach or teacher for an one-line recommendation to encourage them to join, but once they have, it makes it easy to expose your profile in a favorable way and stay top of mind with occasional posts and interactions.

Extracurricular activities are severely restricted. But that doesn’t mean you need to drop the ball. Take a leadership role and found an online Group or Club – becoming an officer of a club that is keeping your team or cohort connected and informed is way more effective at showing commitment and drive than the occasional random Insta or Snapchat interaction.

Essays – you’ll have lived through an interesting experience – ask yourself if you made the best of it. Did you help someone in need. Did you offer to get groceries for your elderly neighbor on your weekly run to the store? Did you walk the dog for someone under the weather. In times of stress, character is revealed – be the best version of yourself, and it will reflect in all aspects of your life, and will show through in your college essays as well.

We will all do more online to get through this crisis. The platforms you use and spend time on now will make a big difference. Keep your privacy in mind, and keep parents involved and updated. Those who are diligent about building out and leveraging an online profile to connect with others, show leadership, and highlight their strengths will be very well positioned when life does get back to normal.