Now a month into this unique school year, I have taken to thinking of the start of my college counseling classes for the seniors as moments in air traffic control. I greet in-person students as they enter the Oakwood Room, launch the Zoom for students studying remotely (some from the other side of the world in China), then often launch another Zoom to greet a visiting college representative and admit students into that meeting before turning over the hosting, then turn to the Google app we use to track who is on her/his way to the facilities and send a notice, done to help keep everyone safe by limiting the number of people in the hallways at any one time. And that’s just the start of class. This year certainly requires adaptability and flexibility.
Amidst all this additional technological communication, the task of college counseling remains the same: help seniors finalize their best possible presentations of themselves in their applications and interviews. My wonderful new colleague, Sarah Whittemore Honan, and I work closely with each senior to make sure that every essay, whether the main personal statement or one of the many supplementary pieces of writing, is the best it can be. We then check every aspect of the Common Application, Coalition Application, or other platform a college or university may use, to make sure there are no errors of any type. Then we finalize our own unique recommendations for each senior, collect the additional letters our teachers write, upload transcripts, and send all of these supporting documents off in advance of the colleges’ different deadlines. While in past years we could help seniors sitting side by side, we now have to be flexible and adaptable enough to do all of it via Google docs, Zoom, and screen sharing. And we are doing exactly that. I suppose this year’s motto needs to be, “Whatever it takes.”
On the college side, adaptability and flexibility has not only come in terms of Zoom rather than personal visits to school campuses, but more significantly in hundreds more colleges and universities going “test optional.” In doing so, these newcomers join more than 1,000 colleges that had already made decisions without standardized testing starting more than 40 years ago. To help our community adapt to this year’s more widespread practice of test-optional admissions, we invited our representative from the University of Chicago to lead our families through a Case Studies program. We invited Chicago because, two years ago, it became the most selective university in the nation to evaluate applications on a test-optional basis. Our representative and her colleagues thus have had two cycles of making tough decisions without always having SATs or ACTs.
Our families saw how this new reality played out in evaluating the complete applications of four different candidates. Having worried about and prepared for standardized tests for years, our students were able to see that tests are not essential, at least not this year, to be admitted to great colleges. If and when some of the colleges who are test-optional this year due to the coronavirus decide to go back to requiring tests next year, we will adapt again. That potential change, and the reality that even those colleges that are currently “test-optional” are not “test-blind” when candidates submit their scores, means we will soon proctor both the PSAT and PreACT for our sophomore and juniors. SATs and ACTs may not matter at more colleges than ever this year, but they could make a comeback. If so, we will help our students stay flexible and adapt again. Whatever it takes, we will figure it out.