2020 has brought many changes to our lives. Many schools have gone test-optional, campus visits have gone virtual and access to various resources has now been taken away; ultimately, it is hardly surprising that such changes have also affected college admissions. Navigating the college admissions process in a “normal year” can be stressful—navigating the college admissions process during a pandemic is even more so. Luckily, there are still many resources available to help students with the admissions process and what better resources are there than high school counselors?!I recently spoke with my high school’s college career counselor, Nick Kostalek, on applying to college in 2020. Below is our conversation that provides insightful advice for any college-bound student.
- What parts of the application do you think will be more heavily weighted this year, if any? For this year especially, your grades and class rigor will be a huge factor in admissions. Colleges want to see that you've continuously added rigor to your course load throughout high school and that you’ve been successful in them. Additionally, it would be beneficial to take courses relating to your intended major, if offered at your high school. One part of your college application that may be more heavily weighted this year are the essays. Any personal statement or supplemental essays that you submit provides unique information about yourself that can’t be found anywhere else in the application. Students should view it as a key opportunity to shed light on their individuality.
- Do you think that the chances of getting admitted into colleges this year will be different at all? It might be possible that smaller, liberal-arts colleges will have slightly lower acceptance rates than most years, as even in typical years they sometimes struggle to recruit students. However, the number of students admitted overall will not be significantly higher or lower than in the past, especially for bigger state schools.
- For schools that have gone test-optional, will not submitting a test-score hurt a student’s chances of admission? In the case of a “test-optional” school, students shouldn’t overthink this.
- Do you have any recommendations for students who are concerned about paying for college? While it is important to be ambitious and set big goals for yourself, it is just as important to be realistic in the process and keep your options open. I encourage students to add at least a few safety schools to their college list, as these are most likely the schools that will offer you the most generous financial aid. Also, larger, more selective universities will typically not offer substantial scholarships, simply because there are too many students; on the other hand, smaller, less selective colleges are often more willing to give out extra funds.
- Is there any way to receive more financial aid for college? If cost is a concern, I highly recommend that students indicate that they are interested in work-study on the FAFSA. Work-study is a way to qualify for more financial aid; if a student chooses to take this option, it is a commitment that is essentially a part-time job that a student participates in as a college student. The types of jobs offered depends on the school, but colleges do a great job at ensuring these jobs are manageable with schoolwork. Plus, all of the money earned will automatically go towards tuition! Additionally, private scholarships are the best way to finance your education expenses after any federal aid you receive. I advise all students to treat applying to scholarships as a part-time job. Yes, it takes hard work—but potentially earning thousands of dollars in exchange for a few hours of work is definitely worth it in the end.
- Do you have any advice for students worried about not knowing their major? First, being overwhelmed is completely natural. One thing I definitely recommend is taking advantage of the resources provided by your school; for example, there might be remote internships or apprenticeships offered virtually, or special websites like Xello, Career Cruising that offer more information about different major possibilities. Secondly, if a student is unsure of what they want to major in and they are applying to a school that requires choosing a major, I would advise that they choose the most competitive major that they are interested in. Next, list a second, less competitive major as an alternative. Because if you decide to switch majors, it is much easier to swap a competitive major for a less competitive major.
- What is the biggest myth about college admissions or college in general? The biggest myth that high students have about college is that any decisions made are binding and that they will be stuck if they choose “wrong”; the reality is that decisions are never completely binding. For example, while selecting a college that isn’t the right fit for you may create difficulties, you can always change transfer. If you don’t like the major you picked, switch it. It’s not the end of the world if you make a decision and back out or change your mind.
- Do you have any last pieces of advice for navigating college admissions during these times?