Opportunities for proactive high school seniors

This year, it’s becoming a bit more of a buyer’s market in the world of college admissions. Many schools that rely on out of state and international students are feeling the COVID 19 squeeze as families opt to keep their kids closer to home. In a Niche survey, at least 35% of high school seniors reported altering their previous college plans in order to stay closer to home because of uncertainties related to Coronavirus.

A client just called me to say that although her daughter was accepted to her dream school—which is out of state—they are reconsidering where she will enroll. They are paying close attention to the ways schools are responding to the pandemic and will be taking that into consideration when making their final decision. They are not alone.

What does that mean for you if you are a current senior? There are some silver linings.

Many schools have moved their decision deadline (sometimes called “intent to register”) to June 1. An exception is the UCs; however, if you need an extension from a school that has not moved its deadline, ask for it. Admissions officers are people too, and they understand that this is a stressful, complicated time for everyone. They have been working overtime to make accommodations for students during these topsy-turvy months.

In fact, even the UCs admit to some flexibility. In an email update sent on April 14, the University of California said that “Requests will be considered individually by each campus providing maximum flexibility to students needing extensions, and individual campuses have the authority to extend the deadline for accepting admission offers beyond May 1 or June 1.”

Even more surprising is that some schools are opening their application process again, such as Franklin and Marshall, which just announced that they are accepting applications on a rolling basis. In an email, they stated that (in addition to waiving the application fee) “application. . .decisions will be returned to students within one week of completing their application.” 

Why is this happening? Student attendance (sometimes called “yield”) is less predictable this year. This is good news to students who are waitlisted at their dream school. Many schools are digging deeper into their waitlists than usual. 

Equally important is that there may be more financial aid for students in need. As some accepted students turn schools down, colleges will have more flexibility in the packages they offer to students they take off the waitlist. Many schools are also digging deep into their reserves to help students whose families’ financial situations have changed because of the pandemic.

On top of these developments, it was a little easier to get into some schools this year. For example, USC’s acceptance rate rose over 4% this year—the highest it has been in three years. Columbia, Dartmouth and Harvard (the first increase in six years) also accepted a greater percentage of students.

So what should you be doing right now?

  1. Explore your options: Take a driving tour of nearby schools you are considering. Also, contact schools and ask for a personalized campus tour; I just took one of Wooster College in Ohio that was run by two hyper-passionate and knowledgeable students. The tour guides addressed on the spot questions about campus culture, diversity, and majors. It was a fun, informative, interactive tour, and I got a great sense of the campus from the comfort of my couch.

Another source for info on colleges is Youtube. Check to see if the colleges you are interested in have student interviews posted.

You can also call or email any admissions office and ask to speak to a student in your major, or from your part of the state.

  1. If you are on a waitlist, reach out to the school and express your interest. Update them if anything has changed (did you complete a capstone project? Just start virtual art classes to help parents working from home during COVID 19? Is your girl scout troop helping deliver groceries to older people in your community?). 
  1. Has your family’s financial status changed? If so, contact schools’ financial aid office to ask them to recalculate your expected family contribution. You will probably have to show proof/documentation, and not all schools will have more money to distribute, but some will, so it is worth checking in with them.

In short, pockets of opportunity are opening for those willing and able to explore and re-explore the evolving college admissions landscape.