How the Pandemic Put an Emphasis on the Basics of College Admissions
Last year, it seemed like everything changed in college admission.
Test scores became optional, academic programs moved online, athletic seasons were canceled, and community service opportunities in lockdown were thin on the ground. These changes required college admission offices to shift in the ways they read and evaluated the qualities of their candidates. When test scores and community service no longer differentiated their candidates, their focus intensified on to the foundation of each student’s application: the transcript.
Essentially, when everything changes, college admission offices went back to the fundamentals to find out whether a candidate would be a good match for the resources of their institution. A candidate’s academic record, the courses applicants have taken, and the grades he has earned has always mattered the most to college admission officers. Without the other factors, it became even more important. Students with great grades but who avoided the most challenging courses undercut the value of their achievement. Those who took exceptionally challenging courses but earned weaker grades undercut the value that the course rigor offered. How then to find that golden mean, the perfect balance between ambition and achievement? Those of us advising high school students had to return to the basics.
1. The Academic Team: At Avon Old Farms, we have Academic Deans who advise and make schedule adjustments based on the needs of a student, not the needs of the institution. All of our students also have an advisor who follows their academic progress as individuals, and who will support them in their coursework. In the College Counseling Office, we do the research so that we have the most current information about offerings, policies, and requirements. We help the Academic Deans and advisors guide our students to find the courses that will challenge them and where they will continue to grow.
2. The College List: When we start meeting with students in the second semester of the 11th grade, we have the time to listen to each of their stories and help match them with a range of colleges for them to investigate. Because we build relationships with students in multiple roles - teachers, dormitory faculty, coaches, club advisors, we can frame their academic progress through high school and help college admission officers know the student better through our recommendations. Their teacher recommendations provide a closer look at how each student learns in a classroom and what qualities of mind each has developed already.
3. An All-Boys Approach: Avon Old Farms takes a personal approach to guide students. We intentionally build relationships with our students by listening to them tell their stories and by encouraging them to be a partner in their search for college. Our program emphasizes REAL learning, (Relational, Experiential, Active, Lifelong) to help each of them build the best academic record he can. Our understanding of how boys learn, who our students are, and who they aspire to be means that they have a strong academic foundation under them.
The changes that the pandemic imposed meant that colleges relied more heavily on transcripts. While testing, athletics, and extracurricular activities diminished in importance, the foundation of each application—the transcript—came under increased scrutiny. At Avon Old Farms, we have a solid understanding of the basics to college admissions and know our boys well, so even in a pandemic that threw college admissions a curveball, it revealed one of our school’s strongest qualities: our students have the foundation that they can build on in the future. At a time when college admission can seem chaotic, each of our students has a chance to find an excellent match for his talents and passions in a college or university program where he is prepared to thrive.
About the Author
Director of College Counseling