Applying to College in the Pandemic Year

by Joyce Slayton Mitchell

NEW YORK – Change. Change is and will be the action word in your life now and for the next few academic years.

“Oh no! I’m a senior – my last year of high school. Senior year is supposed to be my big, happy (after I get into college) last year of high school. It’s supposed to be the time when I figure out where in this whole country I want to apply to and go to college. I’ve been thinking and dreaming of my senior year all through high school.”

As have all seniors. So, let’s think together of how to work through this pandemic senior year, even as the chances are very good that a vaccine will be out by the end of your college freshman year. In the meantime, you’ve got to plan with what you’ve got right now.

Let’s start with your college list before the pandemic. That is, what did your college list look like last November or December, in junior year? Which colleges had you researched and thought most about applying? Let’s call it Plan A. It’s helpful to know — if all things were normal — where you have a reasonable chance of getting in according to your academic record, and where you had planned to apply.

Think about what you and your family are thinking now about Plan A. Is it still okay for you to take a long road trip or fly to where you will have been accepted next April? Have you checked online with those Plan A colleges to learn how they are dealing with their freshman this year? Are they letting students on campus and in the classroom?

Or are they on campus and taking virtual classes? Were all of the freshman or half of the class brought on campus? Have you checked their virus rates? Have they sent home the students who contracted the virus or separated them and kept COVID-19 students on campus?

Have you and your family decided you should be closer to home during the pandemic? No? Then stay on Plan A

If you and your parents have decided you want the freshman experience of being on campus, although closer to home, make a Plan B: 1.Check off all of the colleges on list A that are beyond your travel limits and 2. Buy a copy or go to any library to find America’s Best Colleges, The Fiske Guide to Colleges, or The Insider’s Guide.

Let’s say University of Texas at Austin, Northwestern, and Colorado College are on your A list. Your job is to go through one of the guides above to find “like colleges.” Read about the “too far away” colleges on your A List and check them out in the guides, looking for similar colleges that are located closer to you. For example, most state universities have more in common with each other than with private colleges. So, if University of Texas was on your list, look at several of the state universities closer to home. They all have big-time sports, most have fraternities, and they all have similar academics. You can easily transfer credits earned whatever state university you attend if you have a C or above.

Is Georgia Tech is on your list? Take a look at RPI, Cornell, and Worchester Polytech. Plan B is using your Plan A colleges that no longer work for you during the pandemic, substitute “like colleges” closer to home. Talk to your school counselor about these possibilities.

Lastly, Plan C is to take a year away from school — a gap year — between high school and college. Think about living at home or with relatives or family friends in another town or city for a particular opportunity to intern or get a job at home or away. Take online courses not related to college credit – something that has always interested you, a foreign language, art history, space science or cooking classes. You will find limitless opportunities – free as well as those with fees. Start a business, get a job, take bike trip with a friend across the country, hike the Appalachian trail from Maine to Georgia, all 2,191 miles

With Plan A or B, you’ve got your college list in hand: go ahead and apply. After your apps are all in, February is a good time to check out the websites of the colleges where you applied to find out the pandemic situation:

Are dormitories and dining halls still open for freshman?

Are classes being presented in person and online?

Are students allowed to live in the dormitory and take their classes online?

What action is taken for students who test positive? Do they remain secluded on-campus, or are they sent home?

No matter what advice you are given, we can all expect change. If you follow Plan A, B, or C, you will be well prepared to go with the changes. Keep your friends close online, if not in person. Nothing will make you feel better than having the company of your friends in the same college application boat with you.