College Planning in a Pandemic

The New School 2020

Marshall Gray, Dean of Studies and College Counseling

The standard college admission essay allows no more than 650 words. My goal is to adhere to that limit myself.

This is not the year I planned for.

I didn’t take our sophomores on a college visit trip in May, I didn’t travel to conferences, and I didn’t even get to attend graduation for our first senior class, some of whom I came into the school with. This is the reality of life during a pandemic. We still have work, and school, and the other obligations of life. Seniors are still applying to college. Juniors are beginning their search.

That’s what I want to discuss today: applying to/searching for college during a pandemic. It’s just a little different. In some ways, nothing has changed. Virtually all college applications are online, so there is no difference in filling out the Common Application this year versus last year. You still have to do the monotonous processes of names, addresses, parent education and work experience, and listing (in order of importance to you) up to ten different activities you have been involved in during high school. For many students, though, that is where the similarity ends. There will be few visits to campus, and no colleges visiting here. There will probably not be face-to-face interviews or meetings with college representatives. So what to do?

The New School 2019


1. Knock out online applications!

Whether it is the Common App, the Coalition App, or a school’s individual application, there is no need to wait. Take care of them now, before we get too deep into the school year. Fill out forms, write essays (I’m always happy to read those and give feedback), and hit submit, not just save. 

2. Keep working hard in your classes.

While you might not have semester grades when you apply, colleges will absolutely want to see your grades from senior year, to make sure they are comparable to the grades you submitted when you applied. 

3. Check schools’ application requirements.

Most colleges and universities have waived the ACT/SAT requirement for admission this year, though some (including the University of Arkansas,) still require it for scholarships. If you need to take it again, there are options, but if your schools don’t require it, don’t take on the added stress!

4. Use your resources wisely.

When it comes to choosing, it may be more of an adventure this year, if you can’t visit campus, take advantage of everything the schools are offering. If there is a virtual tour, sign up for it. If you can meet with an admission counselor or a current student, take advantage of it. There are an incredible number of resources available to you to help you get the best picture possible of each school.

5. Ask for help!
When in doubt… come ask me for help! That’s what I'm here for.

The New School 2019


1. Do some exploration.

Take virtual tours or go on virtual visits, meet with college reps or students, and just discover what is out there. You can find over 8000 schools in our Naviance college database, ready for you to explore.

2. Work hard in your classes.

These are the last grades you’ll earn before applying to college, so make them ones you’ll be proud to share. Do you have to be perfect? No, but you need to do your best to show schools you are ready to handle what they will expect of you when you get there. 

3. Don't stress the test yet.

More than two-thirds of schools have waived the ACT/SAT for the class of 2021, but many haven’t made a decision about the class of 2022, so for now, the answer is simple; use Method Test Prep, provided by the school, and wait until the spring, when we will have more information. If testing is required, there will be several opportunities. If it isn’t, you’ve saved some stress and some money by not trying to jump on it now.


These are strange times, and none of us have been through this before. The most important thing I am hearing from experts in college admission is that they know you haven’t either, and they are ready to give some grace.

So take a breath, explore, have fun, and when in doubt, ask for help. I’m here when you need me.


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