College Counseling in the Time of the Coronavirus

For college counselors, just like with teachers, being away from the students and parents with whom we work closely has been the most challenging part of these last two months. These personal interactions are the foundation of our work, and shifting to the virtual world has been both nerve-wracking and exciting. While there may have been a few hiccups early on as we adjusted to this new work environment, we have forged ahead meeting regularly with students and parents to continue our important work together. No way were we going to let a pandemic stop us from continuing to offer guidance to families as they navigate a college admission process that has only gotten even more challenging under current circumstances!

Here are a few observations from these last few months:

1) Zoom has been a powerful and effective tool in our continued work with families. Before, we would have to coordinate in-office appointments that worked with multiple schedules. With virtual meetings that obstacle has gone away. Why just last week I met with a family where the student was at home, one parent was at work and the other parent was in the car. The flexibility this current situation allows for has allowed us as college counselors to be even more accessible to families.

2) As a result of being closed to visitors for the foreseeable future, colleges and universities have become more nimble about reaching prospective students in their homes. Individual schools have been hosting frequent admission presentations and virtual campus tours online. Want to chat with a psychology professor or the director of the choir? Just ask! Schools recognize that they need to be as accommodating as possible to connect with interested students. Several organizations have hosted multi-school college fairs and workshops covering a range of topics to assist families navigate this process. There have even been a number of virtual events that cater specifically to us counselors! 

3) Standardized testing has been a source of consternation for the Class of 2021. National test dates for the SAT and ACT were canceled in March, April, May and June. More dates may get canceled; it’s hard to know. And if future test dates occur, will the number of available seats be limited because of safety guidelines? I applaud the many schools that were quick to act, and as of now there are over 1200 colleges and universities that will not require standardized test scores as a part of their admission process for the Class of 2021. Some institutions will simply use this current crisis as a one year break from requiring the SAT or ACT of applicants, while others will use this as the springboard for a permanent policy change to test-optional admission. Either way, the swift manner in which schools have acted to provide this relief to current juniors has reinforced the message that they are trying to do right by students.

4) My consistent message to students in recent weeks has been this: focus on that which is in your control. Be fully invested in classes during these final days of school. Do some pleasure reading. Take part in a couple of virtual college visits each week. Enjoy time with family and stay connected to friends. Get out for walks and enjoy the fresh air. Pick up a new hobby. Devote some time this summer to working on college applications. Will the July ACT be canceled? Will schools be open to visitors in the fall? Will college application deadlines change at all? It is hard to know the answers to these, and other, questions. Be prepared to adapt if necessary without worrying about these unknowns now.

Each spring the College Counseling Office hosts several morning meetings for the eleventh-grade class parents. These occur at 7:30 a.m. and we usually have about 15-20 parents attend. Two weeks ago we hosted our first morning coffee meeting—over Zoom, of course—and we had over 50 parents take part! In-person meetings with students and parents will always be the cornerstone of our work as college counselors, but the most important lesson this pandemic has taught us is that there are important tools at our disposal that we can use to supplement those face-to-face interactions and provide increased programmatic opportunities to families.