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Navigating college selections in a pandemic world

Navigating college selections in a pandemic world

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The college selection process is often met with joy and excitement as high school students begin dreaming about where they are going to spend the next four years of their lives. They look forward to bustling campus tours, traveling and combing through brochures to find a school that’s just right for them.

In a year filled with new — new processes, new mask mandates and new unknowns — the college selection process is no exception. Travel restrictions, social distancing and admission requirements are constantly changing. So, what’s a high school student on-the-hunt to do? How does one select a college in such a fluid time? What about standardized testing? How does one build a resume without clubs and extracurriculars in the current virtual school world?

These are difficult times for all of us, and the college selection process was already stressful in “normal” times. However amid the pandemic, what’s most important is to not stress,” said Shani Lenore-Jenkins, vice president of enrollment at Maryville University.

Rest assured you don’t have to halt your college selection process amid COVID-19. Colleges and universities are coming up with fresh ways to streamline the college selection process and ensure you land in the right place for your next educational journey.

Connecting with universities at a time of disconnect

Colleges won’t leave you hanging if you don’t opt for the traditional campus visits. Most universities are adapting just as you are and want to ensure students still have the best possible experience when selecting their school. Luckily, there are many ways to get a feel for a school without ever stepping on the campus.

1. Connect with an admissions counselor. Start here because admissions counselors are the experts of their respective college. They are able to answer some of your top questions and guide you through the selection process. They will set you up with everything you need and will even connect you with a current student or alumni so you can gain even more insight on the school. They are your go-to resource throughout the entire process.

2. Schedule a virtual campus tour. Campus tours are one of the main ways that high school students and parents make the decision of which college they are going to attend. While students may not be able — or feel comfortable — visiting college campuses during this time, conducting a virtual visit is an option. A virtual tour, if nothing else, can help you narrow down the schools you are interested in. Many sites, such as YouVisit, are offering 360 degree experience tours with a virtual reality headset. By simply checking the admissions page of an institution’s website, you can easily sign up for a virtual tour. You’ll even have a student tour guide like you would if you were walking around campus.

3. Attend a virtual college fair. Just as you can schedule a virtual campus tour for a specific college, you can always search for virtual college fairs. Many websites and apps allow students to choose a personal, tailor-made fair experience and explore the colleges that they are most interested in.

“There are a ton of resources to attend virtual college fairs! Organizations like NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling-nacacnet.org), MOACAC (Missouri Association for College Admission Counseling-moacac.org), Coalition for College (coalitionforcollegeaccess.org) are all offering local, regional and national virtual college fairs,” said Lenore-Jenkins. “They are all free to prospective students. Students just have to go to their websites to register.”

4. Connect with a current student who attends that college. One of the best ways to get a lay of the land is to connect with someone who already attends that school. They will be able to give you firsthand advice and information about campus life and more. This type of networking will allow you to gain personal insight of what it’s like to attend that school, and you just may make your first friend on campus if you choose to go there.

Most colleges are now accepting campus visits if you feel comfortable. They guarantee a safe, socially distanced visit.

Continuing to build your college resume

High school upperclassmen are eager to build their college resumes through sports, internships and extracurriculars. Unfortunately, it’s especially difficult to accomplish this for those high schoolers who are attending virtual school. However, there are still many nontraditional ways to ramp up your resume.

“While I think there has been a pause in the regular activity, I have seen that most high schools are being very innovative and creative in still providing many options to students to stay engaged in these extracurricular activities,” said Dixie L. Williams, director of admissions at University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL).

Think outside the box and consider these off-campus ways to stay involved:

1. Learn new skills from home by taking free online courses. Explore something you’ve always wanted to learn such as sign language or even a foreign language. You could also get an online certificate in something such as coding or IT services.

2. Volunteer in your community through local organizations. Many organizations are allowing the community to stay involved without even leaving their homes. Check your local volunteer opportunities and jump in.

3. If you are comfortable, try a new sport that is still being offered this season by your school. Some non-contact sports, such as golf, tennis and cross country, are still being offered at certain high schools. Although it may be new to you, participating in sports shows potential colleges that you are capable of being part of a team.

“Students should still list the involvement they have had prior to the pandemic and what they are doing now,” said Williams. “Maybe it is still community service but it’s virtual. Clubs and groups are still meeting it is just a different modality. Students should continue to highlight those engagements and maybe take the time to seek out new opportunities if they can manage it with all of the other things that they are juggling.”

The future of standardized testing

Standardized testing may be a thing of the past — or at least on hold — for many high schoolers.

According to collegeexpress.com, incoming seniors have the ability to forgo the SAT and ACT as of now. Because of test date cancellations across the country, many colleges are accommodating students by having test-optional admission policies. For instance, UMSL is piloting a test-optional admission policy for the fall 2021 class of students. “When [students] fill out the application for admission they can answer the question to be reviewed without standardized test scores,” said Williams.

Although many students use their ACT and SAT scores as a showcase for college applications, there are other options for students who are not able to take the test. Studying for standardized tests often require hours of studying, so use that time to polish your grades and enroll in honors courses that also require additional hours of studying and boost your resume.

Another great way that you can ramp up your GPA and get ahead is by taking dual-credit courses. Colleges such as Missouri Baptist University, Maryville University and UMSL offer St. Louis area high school students to take courses that will transfer for credit upon entering their freshman year of college.

Overall, if you’re feeling torn about the college selection process, staying local and opting for community college or a university that offers in-state tuition is always an option — and could benefit you financially.

Don’t get discouraged if you don’t attend the school of your dreams your freshman year or if your selection process is different than you expected. Many students are in the same boat — you’re all in this together.

This content was produced by Brand Ave. Studios. The news and editorial departments of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch had no role in its creation or display. For more information about Brand Ave. Studios, contact tgriffin@brandavestudios.com.

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