My First Client

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I was talking with one of my siblings a few weeks ago and a memory flashed in my mind that I had completely forgotten. In the fall of 1990, my brother was entering his senior year of high school. My mother had attempted to help him with his applications but it was not going well. At the time, I was a recent college graduate, living at home. She asked me to take over and help him complete the Common Application.

I stepped in and everything that I suggested, he had an answer for why it did not need to be completed in that exact way, or at that exact time. But for every excuse he had, I provided an answer for him and in the end, I prevailed and we pushed on with the writing. What I remember so vividly is the machine we were using. It was a state of the art typewriter that allowed you to type one line at a time, that appeared on a digital screen, and you could make corrections while it was on the screen. Once you hit enter, it appeared on the paper and you could not change anything. But I remember thinking that this thing was amazing, and a huge aid in trying to create an error-free (paper) application. I have no idea what he wrote about, I just remember the verbal parries that culminated in me getting him to complete and mail his applications as well as the machine. It looks like a relic now, but at the time, I felt so lucky that we had such a deluxe set up to write.

He got multiple acceptance letters, some great scholarships and graduated from college, with a job! It is ironic that years later I was drawn to this work professionally. Maybe my mother saw something back in 1990!

 

June 1st, The New May 1st

 

IMG_5323Welcome to the June 1st, which is the new May 1st. In the pre-COVID era, I always wrote a May 1st post because that was the National Deposit Day, the due date for seniors to place a deposit at the college they plan to attend. This year many colleges pushed the deadline back to give families time to sort through their choices, amid the pandemic. If you are a senior or the parent of a senior, I know the past three months have been surreal. Whether you made your deposit in April or are just pushing the submit button today, congratulations!

When seniors deposit on May 1, they usually have almost four months until they head off to school. This year, they have less than three months. The average university is starting in the middle of August, so if you are a senior, you are leaving in about 10 weeks. I wrote a post a few years ago about all the things that a senior needs to go to get ready to leave for college, “May 1st Commitment is Just the Beginning!”. I think in the pandemic era, there are a few more things to think about:

Your Health-Evaluate your health, along with your parents and your healthcare providers to determine the best way to stay safe. Do you need extra PPE, disinfectant or hand-sanitizer? Is there a risk factor that you need a single? Take stock now and get prepared so when you arrive on campus you have the support that you need in place.

Flu Shots-Colleges are taking steps to mitigate the spread of COVID on campuses and one requirement that I am hearing more and more is that flu shots will be required. My guess is that schools will facilitate this but talk to your healthcare provider to see how early they anticipate providing the vaccine in case your college expects you to be vaccinated before you arrive.

Campus Closure Plan-Talk about a plan in the event that your campus has to close. Determine how your family will manage this if colleges send their students home again, especially if you are traveling a significant distance to go to school. This past March, many students were on spring break when their colleges told them not to come back. All of their personal items were still on campus. If you need to leave your campus, make a list of what you need to bring with you for an extended stay at home.

Plan B-Have a conversation around what you will do if your school determines that they will not have courses face-to-face this fall. Do you want to forge ahead and take classes online? If not, what else might you be able to do to fill your time in a productive or meaningful way if you are not comfortable learning online?

These are a few of my thoughts. I am attending webinars weekly to stay informed. If I learn more or think of another issue, I will be sure to add it to the list!

 

 

How Did the University of California Vote on the SAT/ACT? :)

The smiley face was a give away! They voted to eliminate the standardized tests for California students by 2025. You can read about it in the LA Times, here.

Why am I so excited about this? Because this could change the landscape for college admission. When a big system like the University of California makes a definitive move like this, others may follow. And ideally, standardized tests will disappear from the application process, removing some of the angst from the stressful process of applying to college. Kudos to the UC Regents!

5 Things to Know About Test-Optional Colleges

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“As I’ve argued elsewhere, submitting SAT and ACT scores routinely increases students’ chances of being admitted to college, receiving more financial aid and placing out of remedial and introductory courses — even at test-optional universities. The use of the term “optional” is irresponsible because it obscures the very real benefits students can gain from preparing for the test and submitting their scores.”

~Yoon S. Choi, Inside Higher Education

The test-optional movement has gained momentum, as colleges try and adjust to the impact of COVID-19. The pandemic precluded the administration of the March 19th SAT in many locations and all SAT/ACT test dates in April and May were cancelled. The College Board eliminated the June test and the ACT set up alternative test dates for June and July. (And those are looking less viable as summer looms). While the ACT and the College Board adjusted, colleges took measures to try and alleviate stress for students and create options for applicants that might not have the opportunity to sit for the test. One of those steps was to become either test-optional or test-blind. Another was to eliminate the required or recommended SAT Subject Area Tests. Here are a few thoughts on this development:

  1. Test-Optional is not test-blind. Amidst all of these changes, it is important to note the difference between test-optional and test-blind. A school that announces that they are test blind, like Loyola New Orleans, is not going to include any standardized testing as part of the student’s file. Here is an excerpt from their admissions website:
    “Loyola has adopted a test blind admissions process. This means that we do not require a standardized test score for our admission application and we will not consider a test score, should a student choose to submit one. In test-blind admissions, the SAT or ACT score is not considered for admission or merit scholarship decisions. This will allow the admission process to be more focused on GPA, academic rigor, student involvement and the student’s personal statement. Read our test blind FAQs to learn more about our admissions process. “If you are applying to a school that is test-blind, students with test scores do not have any advantage. Standardized test are not part of the application at a test-blind school. This is an important distinction.

2. Test-optional does not mean that test scores do not matter. Test-optional schools will still look at students that have scores and if the results are good, those students might  have an edge. Cornell University has offered a test-optional plan for 2021 but on their website it says:

         “As appears to be true at test-optional colleges and universities, we anticipate that                     many students who will have had reasonable and uninterrupted opportunities to take the ACT and/or SAT during 2020 administrations will continue to submit results, and those results will continue to demonstrate preparation for college-level work.”

Students with good test scores will have an advantage at test-optional schools. This should not be a surprise. The colleges have made an effort to alleviate stress by offering a test-optional plan in these unprecedented times but the reality is that strong test scores will always be well-received.

3. Athletes might need scores at a test-optional school. Cornell explicitly states on their website that while they are offering a one year relief from requiring test scores, as a member of the Ivy League, athletes will still be obligated to submit test scores. If you are a recruited athlete, you need to communicate with your school to determine if standardized test scores are required.

4. Merit scholarships are often based on test scores. If you are applying to colleges and counting on being considered for merit scholarships, you will want to reach out to individual institutions to determine if standardized tests must be submitted to be awarded a scholarship or if they will evaluate your profile for an award without test scores.

5. The University of California system has been exploring the elimination of the ACT/SAT. If this happens we might see a turn of the tide where the standardized testing machine goes the way of the dinosaur. Lynn O’Shaughnessy writes about this here and you can also read about it here, in Inside Higher Education.

I applaud the colleges for turning on a dime and taking steps to allay stress for students. I will wrap this up with another quote from the article that I cited at the beginning of this post, from Yoon S. Choi’s piece in Inside Higher Education, “Words Matter“.

 “…we shouldn’t keep calling the test “optional” when we know a good score will increase students’ chances of getting into college, paying for college and graduating on time.

What is the takeaway here? We can only do as much as we can but I am advising my students to make every effort to sit for the SAT or the ACT in the fall and try to earn the best score that they can.

 

Why is May 1st Significant in College Admissions?

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May 1st means several things to me and in the Stay-At-Home/Pandemic era, it just feels good to turn a page in the calendar. But, May 1st has traditionally been the National Decision Day for high school seniors to commit to the college that they will attend in the fall. This year many schools have extended the deposit date to accommodate the uncertain times, so if you know a senior, they might not have made a final decision because the schools that they are considering have moved the date to June 1st or beyond. And for me personally, it is the day that I opened my office last year. I took a sweet, compact room and tried to create a cozy, comfortable space to meet with students and help them on the road to college. (And yes, I can say I have a corner office!)

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Above is where I started and below is where I finished.

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Last May, I was inspired to take the month and offer free meetings in my new office. May is typically a quiet month in the consulting world; my seniors are settled and my juniors are gearing up to work on applications. Last year I wrote about this in a post called “Community”. These complimentary consultations were so well received that I decided to make this an August Consulting tradition, where anyone can schedule an hour to come in (or for now, schedule a call or a zoom meeting) during the month of May. The journey to college has always required families to engage in the process and now more than ever, the questions seem to multiply. So, ideally I would love to welcome you to my office, but for now, please reach out and schedule a time to speak or “meet” virtually. We are in challenging times and these meetings are a small thing that I can do to be of service.

If you have a senior that has made a decision, congratulations!

College Admission News, Part 3

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Here are a few more bits of information and thoughts on the effect of the pandemic in  college admissions:

COVID WRITING-The Common App is considering adding an optional section for applicants to write about how the quarantine effected their life. I think this would be a positive development that will allow students to share the impact but focus their core essay on something that reflects their experience and growth over a longer period of time, not just the past few months.

FALL OPENING-The million dollar question is will colleges and universities be able to welcome students back to their campuses at the end of the summer? So much could happen between now and August, one would need a crystal ball to determine the future. I heard a chief enrollment officer at a selective school share that in the middle of February, it occurred to them that they might need to reschedule their first Admitted Student event. This seemed like a horrible prospect and less than a month later, the entire campus was closed. At this point all schools are creating contingency options and I think that colleges and universities will start to announce their plans for the fall in the coming weeks.

IMPACT-I had a conversation with a student from the class of 2022 and they were lamenting that the class of 2021 was going to have so many choices of test-optional schools and they were sorry that they were not necessarily going to have the same choices the following year. I explained that actually, the class of 2021 might have an incredibly selective admissions cycle. If campuses are not able to offer classes in person this fall, I think there is going to be a significant slice of freshman that opt to defer and upper classmen that choose to take time off instead of completing another semester online. The same demographics that make the waitlist more favorable this year (which I wrote about here) could make seats in the fall of 2021 more scarce. One admission professional said that this could have a cascading effect for the next few years.

SILVER LININGS-Colleges have done an incredible job innovating on the fly. Since they have not been able to welcome prospective students to their physical campuses, they have turned on a dime and offered an amazing array of opportunities to engage with their campuses online. There are live presentations, YouTube channels, virtual tours and more. One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that you can learn more than ever about a campus from the comfort of your own home. An admissions officer shared a story that they were speaking with a family that was choosing between two schools and they said that instead of spending a few hours on campus and going with their gut feeling, they were engaging on a much deeper level than if their student had simply attended an Accepted Student event. The websites are better than ever and schools are tracking demonstrated interest, so when you interact with them online, they have a record of your involvement.

That is all I have for now but I am sure I will be back with more information as events unfold. The other day I heard John Mayer say, “Yesterday was two weeks ago” and that pretty much sums it up. As more information is revealed, I will be sure to share. In the meantime, I hope you and your loved ones are all healthy and well.

College Admission News, Part 2

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Here is my next installment of developments in the college admission process in light of COVID 19. (And there will be a Part 3!)

SPRING 2020 GRADES-If you attend a school that has gone to a Pass/Fail grading system, you do not have to worry. I have listened to multiple admission officers say that they understand that distance learning in the pandemic will shift what transcripts look like. If your school continues to assign traditional grades and your academic performance drops due to the impact of the quarantine, there is a space in the Common App to explain that. And your School Counselor can discuss your circumstances in the recommendation that they write. You just need to ask them if they can include these details in their letter. This pandemic is happening on a global level and college admission representatives are well aware that this impacts their applicants.

WAITLISTS-When I have a senior that is offered a spot on the waitlist of a selective school, I congratulate them and tell them to accept the spot if they want to be considered for admission, should the school have room. But I also tell them that they need to move on from the college that waitlisted them and deposit at a school where they were admitted. And they need to be invested at this school because that is where they will likely go in August. But this year is different. Waitlists are already moving. (Normally they do not have any movement until after the May 1 deposit day). There are several factors behind this shift. International students that were admitted may not be able to travel or get the visas they need. Students that planned to attend a college far from home might reconsider and forego their acceptance at a school that requires air travel. And of course, families that have had economic upheaval might seek more affordable options for the fall. So if you are on a waitlist, fingers crossed that you get a spot!

SENIOR DEPOSITS-If you are a senior facing the May 1 deposit deadline, and you are struggling to make a decision due to any number of different factors in light of COVID 19, you can call the schools that you are considering and ask for an extension. If more time will help you gather the information you need, call the admission office and speak with them to see if they can extend the deposit deadline for you.

FINANCIAL AID-If a family has had a dramatic shift in their finances since they filled out the FAFSA and possibly the CSS/Profile, by all means, reach out to the school and have a conversation. Financial Aid offices are well aware of the toll that the pandemic has taken and they expect that families will be reaching out with special circumstances and seeking a professional judgement.

Stay tuned for Part 3 tomorrow!

 

 

College Admission News, Pt. 1

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Hello from quarantine in the Adirondacks! I have been carefully monitoring the impact of the global pandemic on college admissions and I have shared all my information to date on this post, College Admissions & COVID 19.  I have attended multiple online meetings to learn about shifts in testing, admission policies and everything in between. Things are in a fluid state and there will likely be more changes as the effects of Covid 19 continue to unfold. Here is a recap of the latest developments:

TESTING-The College Board cancelled the May and June SAT and plans to offer monthly testing, starting in August. They are also developing a plan for online testing at home in the fall, if they should need it. The College Board is giving registration priority to students that do not have scores or students that were registered for the June test. The ACT is moving forward with their June and July testing dates and have scheduled “rain dates” the week after each test. (I do not understand how one week will make a difference, but that is their plan). In the fall, they will offer an at-home online test and they will also offer the choice to retake a specific section online.

TEST OPTIONAL-Colleges across the nation are moving to a test-optional policy, some of them permanently, some temporarily, as I write this. So how should a 2021 applicant proceed? My instinct is that unless a college says they are test-blind, good standardized test scores are always going to help an application.

SAT SUBJECT TESTS-Several schools have dropped their requirements and I think that more will. If you are able to take them and your scores are good, unless a school says they are test-blind, the subject tests will enhance your profile.

APPLICATION TIMELINE-One question that I have heard more than once is if application deadlines for EA/ED/RD will change. I think it is too soon to tell. College admission offices have been adapting to constant change for the past months and I heard one Dean of Admissions say that they have not had a chance to consider whether these dates should change. So I would stay tuned to see if the timeline for applications shifts .

Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow!

 

 

It’s Ivy Admit Day!

We are coming down the homestretch of the 2020 admissions cycle. This evening the Ivy League schools will release their admission decisions. I thought it would be useful to post a quote that I saw from a lion in the school counseling world, to offer context and comfort in the event that you do not get the answer that you were hoping for. This school counselor said that an admissions representative from an Ivy League school gave a presentation to parents at his high school. This person told the parents, “The process is completely subjective and is designed to serve the colleges”. If you get the answer that you were hoping for this evening, congratulations! And if you did not, remember, the selection process is more about the school than the applicant. I hope you and your loved ones are healthy and finding ways to enjoy social isolation!

College Admissions & COVID-19

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Greetings from our new normal. I have been socially isolating and adjusting to online work as well as settling my family into a new routine that a week ago would have been unimaginable. As we address, the pandemic, I have no doubt that each of you is taking steps to keep your families safe and preparing for what may come.

There have been small bits of information trickling out of the college admissions world. I realize that this is probably not a high-priority item right now, but I wanted to find an efficient way to share this with people and I am going to keep a running feed on this post, with the latest news that I am hearing. When I feel that there are changes or decisions being made that are reasonably informed, I am going to post them here. Keep in mind, this is a dynamic situation. I am going to use my best judgement to share the most accurate information that I can at the time that I have it.

Lastly, if you, or anyone you know, have questions or concerns and would like to address a specific question, please, please, please share my email with them. I am happy to answer any and all questions, simply as a community service; there is no obligation to use me as a paid consultant. My email is louiselarsenconsulting@gmail.com.

3/22/20-The International Baccalaureate has canceled May exams due to the global pandemic. There is an article explaining this in detail here.

3/20/20, 1:50-The College Board has announced a plan for online AP testing this spring. The information is here.

3/20/20, 12:30-I thought it would be great to post a daily update but yesterday it felt a little inauthentic-there is no point in manufacturing news. So I am going to commit to only posting when I feel there is something meaningful to share. The latest news for today is two-fold. More schools than I can list are opting for test-optional applications in the next admissions cycle. To give you some examples, two colleges that have announced this are Case Western and Virginia Tech. The other news is that MIT has announced that they will not require SAT Subject Tests. The link to the announcement is here. I would imagine that in these unprecedented times, we will see more colleges follow suit.

3/18/20- Lewis & Clark College in Portland, OR, (full disclosure, I did my graduate work there) has contacted seniors to let them know that they reopened their Common App for any students that have decided that they wish to stay closer to home and would like to apply. If there is a school that is closer to home and you would like them to consider an application from you, even thought the deadline has passed, it does not hurt to ask. In this new normal, they might consider this option.

3/17/20-As if there was not enough stress in the world right now, if you are the parent of a senior, we are entering the final stretch of admissions decisions. If you have a senior, the final (and often most selective) colleges are releasing their decisions in the next two weeks. As you cope with your new normal, try and make some space to soothe or celebrate your senior as they receive answers amidst the stress of a global pandemic.

3/16/20, 4:40 pm- The College Board is finalizing plans to allow students to take AP exams at home in May. There is more information here.

3/16/30, 4 pm-The ACT has rescheduled the April 4th test date to June 13th. If you are registered for the April test, you will receive an email about this change. There is more information here.

3/16/20, 1 pm-The College Board has cancelled the May SAT. You can read about it here.

3/15/20-As far as future test dates, if you are comfortable gambling with a fee to take the SAT or the ACT this spring, I would register now. There was so much confusion yesterday and so many test sites were closed, that I bet there will be a glut of college applicants that will need to reschedule. This is a dynamic situation, so stay tuned.

3/14/20-If you were signed up to take the SAT today and your test center was open, consider yourself lucky. What I am hearing for the rest of the world was that chaos ensued.

3/13/20-Good news for seniors, Oregon State University has moved their deposit deadline from May 1st to June 1st. More colleges are following suit and I think that for the 2020 cycle, this might be a trend.