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Conducting a College Search Amidst COVID-19

by Deena Maerowitz

As with so many aspects of life, COVID-19 has introduced disruption and uncertainty to college planning. Schools, candidates, and families are responding with impressive flexibility and creativity as many traditional milestones are upended. Almost every day I hear new developments as higher education rapidly modifies a complex admission process that affects thousands of schools and millions of students nationwide.

Most of this year’s high school seniors had already completed applications and were receiving acceptance letters when college campuses closed unexpectedly in March. With a remarkable turnaround time, admission offices launched virtual experiences to replace the usual spring visits that admitted students often use to inform their final choices. Candidates should pay close attention to emails from each college to track these opportunities. Admitted students can also reach out directly to clarify any changes to deposit deadlines, adjusted requirements for high school transcripts, or instructions to revisit financial packages due to changed circumstances.   

For those looking to start college in fall 2021, almost every step of the school search will be impacted. In any year, thinking about college can feel stressful. This year, the number of unknowns may make the process seem overwhelming. Students can reduce anxiety and build confidence by focusing on tasks that can be done now

  1. Make the most of online resources to research and build relationships with colleges.
    Spring is a common time for high school juniors to visit campuses. The benefits of this activity are twofold: a) students get to know a college’s programs and community culture, and b) admission officers see this investment of time and resources as a strong indicator of student interest. Many schools are now offering virtual tours and information sessions to accomplish these goals. Also follow schools of interest on social media channels.
  2. Continue preparing for standardized tests. 
    Spring SAT and ACT dates were cancelled, and the availability of future dates is unpredictable. Thus, many colleges have announced that they will become “test optional” for entry in 2021. Nonetheless, securing a strong score on these tests may boost your application.
  3. Explore the Common Application and start drafting essays. 
    Targeting specific school deadlines, candidates usually start assembling information for the Common Application during the summer prior to their senior year. Take advantage of time that isn’t being spent on testing and visiting campuses to begin this task. Think strategically about the activities you will list. Becoming familiar with the application format and data now will make completing it easier later. Similarly, start brainstorming and drafting essays inspired by Common Application prompts. Doing this work sooner will free up time later.
  4. Consider how you are using this time now. 
    We are amidst a global event that will have widespread and varying impacts. Some families will experience personal losses, and some are on the front lines of combatting the pandemic. Those more removed are called on to do their part by staying home for weeks on end. In this context, what are you doing to grow as a person and support others? This is a complex time where small and large actions can be important in different ways. Expect this question to arise in upcoming interviews and possibly in supplemental essay questions.

Most importantly, take a deep breath and keep going. At The Bertram Group, we will keep you apprised of new developments and are available to assist in your search. Going to college has always been the culmination of intense personal growth. That has not changed. Staying focused, even in challenging times, is the best strategy for achieving your educational goals.

Deena Maerowitz advises students throughout the entire college admissions process. She works with students ranging from freshmen to seniors and is an expert in both undergraduate and graduate education. She is widely published and sought-after as a speaker on college planning. She can be reached at