Hindsight is 2020: College Counseling Lessons from the Year that Changed EVERYTHING

Article originally appeared on Applerouth.com/blog

As I sat at my desk on Friday, March 13, 2020, I had many questions about the impending quarantine. Utterly blind to the imminent rollercoaster ride, none of us knew we were slowly climbing the hill towards an upcoming free fall and wild curves.

Month after month, the changes kept coming. We leaned with every turn, held onto the short reprieves to adjust before the next curve hit, making it challenging to keep up and provide reliable advice to our students. With each change, I saw the admission process through a new lens and adjusted my perspective. I am now using the lessons I learned in 2020 to sharpen my college counseling skills in 2021.

Give students more information about holistic application review.

In 2020, students became more aware of the term “holistic review.” With a growing test-optional movement and now the elimination of the SAT Subject Tests, students have more control over who sees their scores and who doesn’t. My goal as a counselor is to explain all of the opportunities students have to present themselves to colleges, including their personal and academic profiles. Moving forward, this will need to be a more in-depth, intentional conversation.

Encourage students to be open to the uncomfortable.

2020 turned the “traditional” college experience upside down, and colleges need to know how students face challenges and shift gears. Seeking resources and problem-solving skills are also essential to a student’s success on a college campus. Students also need to find new ways to connect and be engaged, especially when an experience is not “in-person.” Asking the question, how do you become a member of a community if that community is not outside your door? Finally, as campuses are reckoning with their racial histories and dialogue about discrimination, introspection is critical. Teaching students to use inquiry and reflection to look at their own biases and expectations will be essential in 2021.

Teach students to be better storytellers.

With the importance of holistic review and the need to see that students are comfortable with the uncomfortable, students must become better storytellers. Through their essays, students need to provide details of their experiences and the context of their opportunities. Colleges recognize that students have factors affecting their lives, like personal circumstances, financial concerns, and family responsibilities, but students have to tell their stories to provide the context.

Have a backup plan for your backup plan.

One consistent piece of the college application process in 2020 is that you cannot make predictions. While I have always been conservative when making students’ college lists, 2020 taught me that you still need a backup plan to your backup plan. With the number of deferrals resulting from early applications, I found myself reviewing students’ college lists – double-checking that we had considered and discussed every option.

Fine-tune knowledge about financial aid.

Access and financial aid will still be top concerns moving forward. Colleges are in precarious financial positions, so only time will tell how that will affect financial aid offers. With significant changes coming to the FAFSA, I will focus on attending webinars and increasing my knowledge of the financial aid process. First-generation and low-income students need more support and information as the college application, and financial aid processes evolve.

Overall, 2020 reminded us college is still a place of learning and exchanging ideas, which does not have to happen in-person to be effective. Still, the community element, learning how to be a human being, is difficult to provide through a screen. Colleges are also places where racial inequities and the effects of a global pandemic are colliding. Throw in government instability and national debates about leadership – and you still have one heck of a roller coaster ride. While 2020 brought changes and lessons, 2021 will be the year to reflect and react. Students and counselors need to lean into the curves and push back on them to keep upright and moving forward.

Katherine Price


How Will You Pay for College? Financial Aid Considerations

Whether you are a senior currently submitting applications, a junior building your college list, or a sophomore thinking about college, determining how you will pay for college is an important step in the college application process.

First thing first, why is college so expensive?  While many factors affect college costs, the biggest mistake that I see families make is they fail to consider the total cost of attendance.  It is one thing to look at tuition prices, but the cost of housing in NYC will be significantly more than if you attend a college in Iowa.

Next, educate yourself about the financial aid process. Once you understand how financial aid works, you can learn how you may influence your financial aid award. If you are a current senior, you should be reaching out to the financial aid offices of the schools you are applying to.  Here are the top 12 questions you need to ask.

Turning your attention to merit scholarships (money coming directly from a college or university) is one way to reduce college costs. Still, you need to be aware of merit scholarship opportunities. To receive merit scholarships from most colleges or universities, you need to be close to or at the top of their applicant profile. Most of the students I work with who are looking for merit money are admitted to every school they apply to.  While most students create a college list with reach, match, and likely (“safety”) schools in terms of admission, students looking for money create a list that is reach, match, and likely for merit money.  Using merit scholarship search engine sites, such as Merit More, is a great way to learn about schools that are generous with merit aid. You can conduct your merit scholarship search by entering your standardized testing scores, GPA, and location. You can also search for colleges by name.

Finally, many families focus on landing outside scholarships. Searching for outside scholarships can take up a significant amount of time, so using the upcoming holiday breaks to identify (or complete scholarship applications, if you are a senior) is a great way to make sure you are doing everything you can to cut your college costs. To learn how to get started with your outside scholarship search, read College Mindset’s recent post, 6 Steps to Find Scholarships.

While considering how you will pay for college may seem like an additional hoop to jump through, it is significant.  Make sure you openly communicate with everyone involved in your college process, so you are all on the same page regarding cost, budget, and educational goals.  Taking the time to learn more about covering the cost of college now will only benefit you when it is time to make your final decision.

5 Tips To Complete Your College Applications

Are you in a hurry to finish your college applications? Yes, November 1st deadlines are right around the corner but don’t rush to hit the submit button. Here are five tips to help you slow down and give your college applications the attention they deserve:

1. Prioritize: Finish up your main Common Application, including the activities section and your essay. Take your time writing your activity descriptions- this section is often overlooked.

2. Focus: Figure out which applications need your attention now (November 1st deadlines) and which ones can wait until later.

3. Schedule: Block out time in your schedule for your applications. Turn off your phone, put on your headphones, so you focus entirely on your applications.

4. Proofread: Print out the PDF of your Common Application and supplemental forms. Read every essay out loud and review your entire application with a friend or mentor.

5. Breathe: While deadlines won’t wait, you can stop and take a breath. Calming your emotions will put you in the right mindset to complete your college applications.

How to Research Colleges

Want to know all of the details about researching colleges?🤔

Watch College Mindset’s 4 part video series and learn:

Why researching colleges is so important

Where to find accurate data

How to determine your college criteria

How to organize your data when creating your college list

How to look beyond the data and research the “personality” of a college

Why it is essential to demonstrate an interest in a college or university

Get started on creating your college list today! Your parents will be so happy.

 

Learn to Ask Great Questions

Have you ever walked away from a conversation and thought, “I wish I would’ve asked more questions.” You don’t want to bypass an opportunity because you did not ask the right questions. Asking questions is a skill, and it is an important one to master. It shows that you care, can spark the exchange of ideas, and build trust. When you are just starting out, asking clarifying, open-ended questions will help get you closer to your goals.

As with any new skill, it is essential to practice. Before starting any conversation, think about what you want to learn. What is your purpose in the discussion? Then identify the right tone, types of questions, and sequence.

For the tone, most situations benefit from a casual approach.

Open-ended questions can go a long way to helping you learn new information. You can also build further questions into your plan based on the responses you receive.

For the sequence of questions, if you are trying to develop a relationship, you may need to ask less personal questions first to build trust. If you are in a confrontation, consider starting with the tough questions, since you don’t know how long the conversation will last.

Asking questions will open doors and allow you to discover new ideas and concepts. It may introduce you to a part of yourself that you didn’t know what there.

As Albert Einstein said, “Question everything.” I couldn’t agree more.