Campus Visit,  College Admission Process,  College Search,  For First-Gen College Students,  For First-Years,  Introductions

Exploring College Options and Applying during a Pandemic: “A Letter to Senior Me” sequel

Last summer, I wrote a blog post entitled, “A Letter to Senior Year Me.” It outlined all of the things I wish I would have done to prepare for college the summer before my senior year. While I recommend perusing the original, I figured I’d save you some time and, just like any good sequel, give a synopsis of the original. 

A student smiles at the camera from a hammock set up in front of the first year residence halls on Agnes Scot'ts campus.
It’s still summer, even if it’s a strange one for us all.

Previously on Perspective: A Conversation on College Admission from Agnes Scott College… 

Alexsis highlighted 5 key “to-dos” all rising high school seniors should complete over the summer. 

  1. Visit Colleges 
  2. Craft your resume 
  3. Brainstorm/Draft your college essay 
  4. Apply for outside scholarships 
  5. Build a relationship with your admission counselors

Today, I will be taking on these same five “to-dos” during the age of COVID-19. 

Before I get into the revised “to-dos”, I want to acknowledge the added challenges that a global pandemic brings to the college application and search process. This is a difficult time of uncertainty and colleges and universities are changing their longstanding practices and policies, which can be confusing. While this is happening, I want to highlight some tips and tricks that will make navigating this process a bit more manageable. 

And with that, here are the revised “to-dos”: Global Pandemic Edition.

1. Visit campuses

Because many campuses are still closed, colleges and universities are also having to pivot on visit programming. For now, most of us are holding off on in-person open houses and daily visit opportunities.  

One advantage of COVID-19 is that colleges and universities are making virtual visits and webinars more accessible to students. Before, you may have ruled out a college simply because it was too far away, but now you can easily visit! Many colleges and universities have upped their virtual visit game, and you can still experience a highly personalized, immersive experience online. Agnes Scott offers a “live” virtual visit that is led by an Admission Counselor and a current Scottie to give you more information on the college, curriculum, and social life. In addition to virtual visits, many colleges are offering one-on-one chats with a current student, faculty conversations, themed chats (residence life, student life, living learning communities), and even mock classes. 

All of ASC’s virtual visit options can be found here. In addition to the virtual visit, we also offer a self-guided 360 virtual tour which gives you a view inside some of our buildings on campus and will allow you to roam around the quad as if you’re actually there in person! 

“Visiting” could also mean more non-traditional experiences too, like social media take-overs or Day In the Life (DITL) blog posts like this one that Taliesyn, one of our current Scotties, wrote (shameless plug). This could be as simple as following a schools’ Instagram account, student organization accounts, or checking out videos on YouTube. 

2. Craft your resume 

This one still applies. Well, kind of. 

I know our application committee will be taking COVID-19 into consideration when we are reviewing things like part time jobs, extra-curriculars, etc. We understand that some opportunities have been restricted because of social distancing. On the other hand, if you had an increase in home responsibilities or explored a newfound hobby during this time, please be sure to add it to your resume! Once you have a resume, you can also use it to apply to colleges and universities and/or apply to outside scholarships (see #4). 

It’s important to note that Agnes Scott uses a holistic review process, which means that we consider all parts of an application when we are making admission decisions. Yes, extracurricular activities and leadership experience are important, but we are evaluating students as a whole and not honing in on one specific piece of the application. 

On the topic of applications, Agnes Scott uses the Common Application (or Common App for short). Common App typically opens their application to seniors each year on August 1st. 

Common App has already announced that they will be adding COVID-19 questions to the application. This will provide a dedicated space for students to elaborate on how coronavirus impacted them personally and/or academically if they so choose. In addition, Common App added a question for counselors to complete on the School Report that allows them to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on their school communities. This gives colleges and universities a consistent way to ask about the impact of COVID-19. You can find more information about the COVID-19 questions here.  

Three students sit on the floor with laptops in a residence hall room.
Students hang out in a Rebekah Hall room- before physical distancing began.

3. Write (at least a draft of) your college essay 

I have a strong hunch that admission counselors all over America, and maybe even the world, will be receiving college essays about the coronavirus during the upcoming application cycle. That doesn’t mean you can’t write about the virus; in fact, I know it likely had or is having a profound impact on many of you. Some of you may have lost a loved one or experienced significant financial burdens. These are life-altering, significant life events that have shaped who you are. 

It’s okay to write about the coronavirus in your college essay, but if you choose to, please be aware that we may be reading very similar essays every day. If you choose to write about COVID-19, be sure to take a unique “Perspective” (pun intended) on it. What did you learn about yourself during quarantine? Did COVID-19 lead to some sort of revelation or change in thought? Did it influence your college search process or your future career plans? This is where the college essay writing tip “show, don’t tell” comes into play. Do not simply recount a timeline of what happened during COVID-19, but instead use detailed descriptions and reflect on your own experience. Lastly, be sure that if you are writing about the pandemic that it answers the prompt. Many prompts have multiple parts or questions. 

And remember, you will have space on the Common App to talk about your COVID-19 experience if you like, so you could choose to write your essay about something completely different. The essay is intended to tell the application committee something new about yourself that they didn’t already know from your application. 

Again, you can write about an overused topic well, but it’s important to realize what extra steps you may have to take to make your essay stand out. 

4. Apply for outside scholarships 

Luckily, there are still many outside scholarships you can apply for online during the pandemic and you probably have more time to complete them! 

Agnes Scott’s website has a list of recommended outside scholarships. I also recommend creating a profile on scholarship search engines like Fastweb, Unigo, or College Greenlight (specifically for first generation college students). Another important piece of advice is to create a separate email account for scholarships and the admission process  i.e. Alexsisgoestocollege@gmail.com. It’s important to keep in mind that the more local and more specific a scholarship is, the more likely you are to receive it. Most importantly, you should never have to pay to apply to an outside scholarship. 

If your family’s financial situation has been changed significantly because of COVID-19 (loss of a job, loss of income, etc.) it’s important to communicate with the Financial Aid Offices of the schools you are considering early and often, especially because you will be completing the FAFSA with 2019 tax information which will not take COVID-19 into account. 

5. Build a relationship with your admission counselors

I mentioned this in my post last summer, (it may even be more applicable nowadays that we all are craving human interaction) but admission counselors want to talk to you! 

ASC offers individual information interviews with our Admission Counseling team throughout the summer. This is a time for you to answer any and all questions you may have about the admission and financial aid process. Some topics include: curriculum/academics, social life, experiential learning opportunities, career development, how ASC has been responding to the pandemic, etc. Click here to sign-up for an appointment with your admission counselor. 

Exterior photo of a long front porch to Rebekah Hall, with several rocking chairs in view.
Rocking chairs on the Rebekah Hall front porch. They’re waiting for us to return.

6. Take the SAT/ACT or consider applying test optional 

Surprise! I am adding a 6th topic because pandemics can really shake things up. 

So far testing dates for the SAT/ACT were cancelled during the months of March, April, and May. Summer test dates have not been cancelled yet, but if we’ve learned anything from the pandemic, things are subject to change. 

The good news for the Class of 2021 is that you have some time. I know summer is not always an ideal time to take the SAT/ACT, but there is additional time in the fall or potentially the winter to sit for the tests. 

Agnes Scott is a test optional institution already, meaning that students choose whether they would like to submit test scores, complete an evaluative interview with an admission counselor, or submit a graded writing sample from 11th or 12th grade. Test scores are not required for admission or merit scholarship evaluation. Many institutions have or will be making changes to their test score requirements and evaluation processes for test scores. Be sure to do your research and see how this changes their application process. More information on ASC’s admission requirements can be found here. 

If anything, there may be some overlooked benefits to planning for and pursuing higher education in America during the coronavirus pandemic. 

For example, an institutions’ response to COVID-19 tells you a lot about their leadership, communication, and priorities. How did the school respond in the midst of COVID-19 when students were still on campus? How are they planning and preparing for the future? Most institutions have created their own COVID-19 website, a separate site for current students, prospective students, or maybe even both. Here is Agnes Scott’s. 

Spending some valuable time on a colleges’ COVID-19 website may give you a better understanding of how the college operates and what their priorities are. I’m sure you have a lot of questions still remaining about the college admission process and what your college experience will look like. That’s okay. During the past 3 months, you have learned to pivot. Colleges and universities may not have all the answers right now, but know that we are learning to pivot right alongside you. You are well equipped and ready to research and apply to colleges, just remember to PIVOT!


Alexsis Skeen is the Assistant Director of Admission at Agnes Scott College and has been at Agnes Scott since 2017. Since entering self-isolation and working from home, she has been baking more sweets than she can consume on her own and binge-watching the show “Community” on Netflix.

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