By Andy Lee

COVID-19 has turned the world upside down and students are no less impacted by the widespread changes that have swept high schools and universities alike. As a result of the pandemic, classes have been moved online, standardized exams have been modified and postponed, campus tours have gone virtual and summer programs have been canceled. Students, parents, teachers and administrators are all scrambling to address these challenging circumstances and to adjust to the ‘new normal’. Now more than ever, students and their parents must plan early and strategically in order to successfully navigate the upcoming college admissions season. Here are some actionable tips and advice for students and parents to follow as they begin to embark on the application process this summer:

Application Essays: Personal statements and supplementary essays have always been critical components of the application process. Through carefully crafted essays, students are able to showcase their personalities, world views and passions. Due to the postponement of SAT and ACT exams, universities are increasingly adopting a test-optional policy for this upcoming admissions cycle. Without standardized test scores from all applicants, admissions officers will be spending more time scrutinizing application essays. Therefore, it is essential for students to start working on their essays as early as possible. Students should spend more time polishing their essays and seek feedback from their counselors, teachers, parents and peers. There is also a new optional essay for applicants to address the impact that the pandemic has exerted on their lives. Use this space to address any sudden fluctuations in your school grades, any changes to your family’s circumstances and other relevant issues.

Virtual Campus Tours: Visiting college campuses in the summer is a rite of passage for high school students and their parents. Unfortunately, due to safety concerns, campus closures and travel restrictions, most students will no longer be able to make these visits. Fortunately, thanks to the live video conferencing applications, students are able to conduct virtual campus tours instead. Beyond the virtual tours that can be easily accessed on most universities’ official websites, students can also utilize youvisit.com and collegeweeklive.com to connect with professors and admissions officers to learn more about the academic and extracurricular offerings at each university. Since most universities have social media accounts where they list virtual information sessions and share updates on admissions requirements and procedures, students should consider following these. Some other helpful online resources that students should refer to include: unigo.com, collegeconfidential.com and usnews.com/best-colleges. Finally, students should look through online student publications, such as school newspapers and campus magazines to get a better sense of student life and campus culture.

Online Courses and Virtual Volunteering: While many students’ original summer plans may have been disrupted, there is still a plethora of worthwhile university courses and meaningful volunteering activities that students can enroll and participate in from the comfort of their own homes. Students may access college-level courses offered by leading universities from across the world in a wide range of subjects on online platforms, such as coursera.com and edx.org. For students interested in giving back to the community, they may search for remote volunteering opportunities on the following websites:

  • redcross.org/volunteer/volunteer-opportunities/be-a-digital-advocate.html
  • pointsoflight.org
  • teensgive.org/virtual

 As a result of the pandemic, there are unprecedented challenges that many people are facing across the world. During these difficult times, students should try their best to maintain a positive mindset, plan strategically and utilize the many resources available to them. By embracing the uncertainties and overcoming the obstacles ahead, students will not only secure acceptances from their dream schools, but will also emerge stronger and more resilient to tackle challenges that will inevitably arise in the future.