To the High School Class of 2021

By: Jessica Brauser M.A.,LSW

What an odd time to be applying to colleges.
There are so many questions and doubts and recalculations of plans. Indeed, you must be feeling the intensity of your position.

I don’t envy you, it’s tough where you are, but I should know.
I am a college counselor, and I’ve been through this process before, albeit not with a pandemic’s weight on my shoulders.

But bear with me, I know what you are going through. I was a senior when 9/11 happened.

I was in 2nd period Spanish AP. There were rumblings that something happened in New York. Pre-iPhone, I went to the school office and watched the tragedy play out. A kid in my grade was standing next to me. We never spoke before he put his arm on my shoulder. We have been friends since then, exchanging texts on 9/11 each year. My Class of 2002 seemed to rally together. Differences amongst us became less of a divider.

At the time, I was witnessing so much unprecedented change.
I would sneak home early, lie on the couch, and watch live CNN coverage for hours. This constant news stream, which was nearly non-existent before the social media boom, was oddly soothing. Pre- and post 9/11 became common vernacular.

In the months that followed, my college path rerouted. I applied ED to Tufts instead of Northwestern because, through apt logic, I determined at Tufts, I could be closer to New York. I was a Floridian, and if I was going out-of-state for college, I wanted quick access to second cousins and close friends who lived in New Jersey and Long Island. Also, airplanes were terrifying, and I tried to avoid them if necessary. Of course, while at Tufts, I took countless flights back and forth between BOS and FLL because in time, flying would become normal again.

Class of 2021, I get that you weren’t born yet, and 9/11 might seem like a historical tale, but it was real, and most likely, your life was impacted by it. Your parents, too, made moves in response to 9/11, and you will make moves in response to Quarantine. You might feel slighted to be a Senior right now. So many hopes and imaginations of what this time would have looked like if COVID didn’t happen. But it did, and your SAT and ACT dates are being canceled, opportunities to improve your chances of admission quickly disappearing. School policies and procedures are impacting college admissions on an incredible scale.

Pre-Corona and Post-Corona is the new norm. So how can you handle all this change and feel accomplished by your applications and essays? Here are some tips to get you through this very unique application year.

1. Embrace the No-Sat Policy; but don’t fall too hard for wishful thinking. Just because they say they won’t look at your scores, you still need to be realistic about your overall chances. Scores are only one part of your whole application.
2. Give yourself time. A deadline is a deadline. If the app is due on Nov. 1, it’s due 11:59pm Nov. 1. You don’t have to rush or create self-imposed deadlines.
3. Consider a Gap Year. It’s common everywhere else in the world. Besides the added benefit of finding purpose and passion during this precious time, by taking an official gap year, you might avoid the clog that is about to consume the college and grad school admissions pipeline. 20% of the Class of 2020 deferred. That 20% intend to take a seat on campus during your intended freshman year. Tell the colleges your limits, and if you too would be willing to defer. The Additional Information writing space on the Common App is ample for communicating particular circumstances with application readers.
4. It’s ok to be deeply affected. So much so that your plans dramatically changed. If you can, talk it out, or —— text it out with someone you trust. Nothing is a crazy idea if you can get it to make sense with someone else!
5. Go with your instinct. No matter what path you chose, you can’t go wrong.
6. Keep a journal. You are living in extraordinary times. You never know where your notes will take you.

I find myself advising my students to develop additional interests. With virtual schools and limited activities freeing up much scheduled time, there are more opportunities to explore assignments and research topics that once seemed too time consuming. It seems sensible that more than other years, you can be more honest and straightforward with admissions counselors. Applying to college is about requesting a space at the academic roundtable, so they really want to get to know you through your application. Tell them your experiences and perspective.