College Admissions and Covid

College Admissions and Covid, Part 1: Standardized Testing

By Alyse Levine, Founder & CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling

The past seven months have presented a fair share of challenges for everyone. No process, business or individual has gone unaffected, and this includes the college admissions process. The ways in which this process has been impacted are countless, and the stress it has caused for our high schoolers is very real. The dynamic between college admissions and Covid can add another level of uncertainty to a process that was already riddled with anxiety before the global pandemic hit. 

Now that the future is so unclear, students’ anxiety has understandably grown. Your high school experience has been dramatically impacted, as has the college admissions process. 

Here’s a closer look at what has changed and what you need to know. 

Standardized Testing during Covid

No one aspect of the process has been more impacted than standardized testing. The inability to take the SAT and/or ACT due to widespread test closures throughout the pandemic has led more than 500 colleges to adopt a test-optional policy, giving you the choice to send or not send tests. This is the list of test-optional schools. 

Over 70% of America’s 4-year colleges are now test-optional, as are over 90% of the nation’s most selective schools. While there had been a pre-pandemic movement towards test-optional with a growing number of schools–George Washington in 2015, Wake Forest in 2008, Bowdoin (the very first!) in 1969–no one could have anticipated that all of the Ivy League schools, the top liberal arts colleges (including Amherst, Pomona and Williams), and just about every top flagship state school, including Michigan, UNC and UVA, would be test-optional. 

Some colleges are even adopting a test-blind policy, in which test scores are not accepted at all. This includes some if not all of the University of California schools. (Some of these schools are challenging a recent court injunction to go test-blind.) In addition, half of Cornell’s schools are now test-blind, as is Dickinson College. 

So what to do? For seniors, this is tricky. If you have test scores, be sure to look at how your scores compare to the middle 50% score range for each college on your list. Determine if your score represents you well and how it compares to your transcript and GPA. If you haven’t taken tests or are not happy with your scores, it is completely acceptable not to send your scores. More than 500 colleges have signed a commitment stating that “Test Optional Means Test Optional.”

That said, I understand the skepticism and concern that abounds about how not sending scores could disadvantage a student.The question of how colleges can assess a student without this key and historical part of their metrics is a reasonable one. But colleges are furiously working to pivot–consulting with their test-optional peer institutions and training their staff to prepare them for this new evaluation process. I am confident colleges will not penalize students who do not submit test scores. At the same time, I am sympathetic to students who are worried about how not having test scores could negatively impact them. Remember this is a highly unusual time and everyone, including admissions offices, is going to be understanding and flexible.

Should I try to take a test now? This is another common question. Of course, the answer is: only if you can do this safely and without having to put you and your loved ones in harm’s way. In addition, no one is expecting students to travel great distances for these tests; that is simply too much. For juniors: because many schools have not yet set their policies beyond this year, I recommend you prepare for an SAT or ACT and plan to take it when you can. Try to prepare to take it early so that you have ample time to test again should the test be cancelled, or if you want to re-test.

As you can see, there is no one clear answer that suits every student. It’s important to consider each school you are applying to, your strengths as an admissions candidate and your test scores/possible test dates as you make your decision. This is also where working with a professional counselor, like one of our experts at Premium Prep, can help. Our team has always stayed on top of these developments and trends pre-Covid;, now, we are ever more focused on helping students and families navigate this terrain based on their individual considerations. Let us know if we can help you too!

Up Next in Part 2 of College Admissions during Covid: The Changing Landscape. Questions you have about essays, extracurricular activities, reference and more!

College applicant learning remotely

End-of-Summer Tips for High School Students in the Age of Covid

Alyse Levine, Founder & CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling

This summer has been highly unusual, to say the least. I hope you have had some solid down-time and found creative ways to safely socialize with friends. Maybe you’ve even had opportunities to dig into a favorite activity or pastime. A range of high school school plans will be rolled out over the next month, and whereas there are differences between them, it is safe to say that none are “normal.” And there remain a lot of unknowns. That said, we have spent the past four months educating ourselves, speaking to admissions counselors, attending webinars, huddling together as a team, and doing whatever else we can do to stay up-to-date and make sure that we are prepared to properly advise our students and families. This will certainly be a school year like none other. Yet, there are concrete steps you can take to maintain a smooth college process. This blog post contains valuable tips for all high school students.

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What Counts?

By Alyse Levine, Founder & CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling

What counts?

I’ve been thinking about this question for some time now. Come to think of it, I’ve been pondering it my entire career. The concept first arises when a student is gearing up for high school. Suddenly “It counts.” What does that mean? Did everything that preceded this moment somehow not count? In many ways, “What counts?” has become the essential question of college admissions—and the one I am probably asked most often. I think most of us in college counseling and admissions have a sort of sixth sense about it. We’ve used our inner compasses for years, and usually the answers are pretty clear. And yet, too often, “What counts?” is overly influenced by “What will get me in?” 

But maybe now something has changed.

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7 Tips for Acing Your College Interviews

Alyse Levine, Founder & CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling

The college interview is a time-honored tradition, and yet most people are uncertain as to its exact purpose and how to approach it. Caricatured in countless movies and television shows, it often gets a bad rap, reinforced by older friends and relatives quick to share stories of their own awkward encounters. An overly intense interviewer peppers the applicant with impossible questions. An enthusiastic interviewee puts their foot in their mouth and immediately sinks their application. In reality, the college interview is rarely that rough, and, while certainly not irrelevant, it is not nearly as important as grades, activities, test scores, and essays. However, in a world of increasing competition and inflated credentials, the interview can be an important factor. It may not alone determine your chances for admission, but it remains an opportunity to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Some colleges require an interview and have a very formal process built into their application process; others do not require it but do encourage applicants to interview with an admissions representative or alumnus, on-campus or in a student’s hometown. Either way, it is important to take the process seriously. It is a chance to showcase the less tangible aspects of your application, interests, and character, have a conversation with someone knowledgeable about the school, and build a relationship with an admissions officer or alum. Here are seven tips to make sure you are college-interview ready.

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End-of-Summer Tips for High School Students

Alyse Levine, Founder & CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling

That collective groan you here? It’s students everywhere realizing that summer is ending. Like clockwork, the emails from school administrators have started to arrive in your inbox and class schedules are being released, signaling that you’ll soon be back to the grind. By all means, do what you can to squeeze out what you can from these remaining vacation days; sleep late, hang out with friends, relax. But, whether you like it or not, it’s time to begin thinking about the academic year ahead. School is right around the corner, and this is a great time to get things in order and prepare for what’s to come. This should absolutely include building in some down time for yourself; it’s so important to take care of your mind and body. Yet, I have found that having a plan and some basic goals can also help mitigate the stress.

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How to Nail Your Personal Statement

By Alyse Levine, Founder & CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling

When it comes to college applications, nothing looms larger than the personal statement. It has acquired an almost mythological quality in our culture. Ask around, and most adults can readily tell you what they wrote about. And the hype is not misplaced: the personal statement remains the cornerstone of the college application. It is the primary way for applicants to speak directly to admissions officers, showcase their distinctive qualities and experiences, and make a case for why they belong at a particular school. It is also the essential way for those officers to get to know you as a person, beyond transcripts and test scores. Due to its significance, the personal statement can be intimidating. Applicants feel pressure to write something unique, while being both confident and humble, mature and youthful, exceptional and relatable. Not to mention that most high school students have never written about themselves in such a direct way. But, there are ways to organize your approach and make your essay process as painless as possible. Here are my tips for a successful personal statement:

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5 Ways to Optimize Your College Process

By Alyse Levine, Founder & CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling

Throughout my career, I have been a big proponent of “the match.” There is a school out there for everyone, and finding that school is much more a matter of knowing yourself and learning your options than following over-hyped rankings, supposed prestige, or what others in your community are saying. To abide by that philosophy means having to search and discover according to your criteria. This requires first identifying those criteria and then setting your own course through the college admissions process. Translation: you need to do a lot of homework, and there are no shortcuts. Developing a list of schools can be a daunting task, as the variety of colleges and programs can seem endless. Narrowing down is the key, but being open-minded, exposing yourself to different types of schools, and understanding your specific wants and needs are the crucial first steps. Look inward before searching outward. For this blog post, I’ve compiled five ways to optimize your college process.

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Humanities Now!

By Alyse Levine, Founder & CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling

When it comes to college admissions, schools are always attempting to stay ahead of the curve. They try to anticipate what’s coming, what the world will soon need, examine their own trends, and adjust accordingly. The most popular disciplines are of course the ones with the most applicants and majors, often resulting in increased support and funding in those areas. But schools also hope to correct disparities in their application pools and maintain a balanced and intellectually diverse student body. From a college admissions perspective, the shift toward what are commonly called STEM fields has resulted in a glut of prospective students competing in those fields, while competition among students focused on time-honored but less “hot” areas like history, English, philosophy, and the arts has dropped significantly. Colleges know the value of the humanities and are actively looking for students devoted to them. If you’re passionate about such things, don’t hesitate to buck the STEM trend. There are benefits—both now and later.

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10 Tips for Visiting Colleges

By Alyse Levine, Founder & CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling

There is no better way to learn about a college than to visit it in person. Can you picture yourself there? Will the academic and extracurricular options satisfy your needs? Is the atmosphere appealing? Can you imagine this place as your home for four years? Students today can gather endless facts about the schools on their list and do “virtual tours” of each from anywhere. Yet the truth remains that, if you want to get a real feel for a particular college, nothing beats walking across its campus, attending information sessions, talking to students and admissions representatives, and touring specific departments, programs, or facilities. The campus visit is also the primary way to “demonstrate interest” in a school (see our previous blog-post covering this important topic), and it can be the most fun part of the college application process too! Though each school is a bit different in how it handles visitors, there are some rules of thumb to keep in mind when planning and executing this phase of your process. Here are ten tips to make the most of your college visits…

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The Transition to College

By Alyse Levine, Founder & CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling
With Special Guest: Perri Kersh, Owner of Neat Freak Professional Organizing

Phew! You’ve made it. No more SATs or ACTs, no more college essays, and no more anxiety about getting in. Breathe a sigh of relief, and give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve crossed the college-admissions finish line – CONGRATULATIONS! Of course, this is really only the beginning, the start of a crucial phase of your life–what all that work and anxiety was for. As you look forward and picture yourself at college, excitement will surely grow, and rightly so. But, be prepared to confront some fresh concerns–things you didn’t focus much on while applying to schools–as you turn your attention from admissions to attending. The sense of relief at being done with your application process often comes with a new stressor: the transition to college.

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