Anything but COVID-19

By Neil Chyten

Listen, I want to write about anything but COVID-19. I want to think about anything but COVID-19. I want to wake up in a world where I don’t have to wear a mask, or keep my distance from friends and family. I want my class of 2024 recently accepted college freshmen to check into their dorms at the end of August and begin their classes in the first week of September. I want my high school juniors to prepare for an SAT or ACT at the high school, sitting next to their classmates, and giving dirty looks to the student who coughs or sneezes because it is rude, not because it threatens their lives. I want my 9th, 10th, and 11th graders getting excited about their summer internships, research projects, or college classes. As I said, I want to write about anything but COVID-19. However, all the things I would normally write about have been affected by COVID-19. It is hard to give advice or insights into the college process or the private school admission process or test preparation when all the advice of the past or future won’t help students this year. That is because this is the year of exceptions. This is the year of uncertainty. This is the year of COVID-19.

In about a month or so, my rising college seniors and I will be working on college applications. We will be finalizing college lists, organizing activities, writing resumes, procuring recommendations, writing and polishing essays, creating strong admission cases for best fit colleges and high-ranking colleges, organizing portfolios and performance videos, and generally making applications shine. We will be putting the final touches on personal images we have carefully crafted over the past year or two. And, as we engage in these activities, we are hopeful that life will return back to normal by the time they are ready to accept their offers of admission.  Soon, I hope to go back to writing about strategies and things to think about when applying to private schools and colleges, with the understanding that students will check into their dorms in August and start classes during the first week of September. I hope to reveal some of my strategies for SAT and ACT success, with the understanding the tests will take place at the designated times and places. However, right now, it is impossible to write about anything other than COVID-19. That is because everything is different, and advice that I gave last year and advice that I will give next year are not nearly as relevant this year. On the bright side, I can say thank goodness for advances in technology which have allowed me to continue meeting with my students just as if the world outside hadn’t changed. 

This year, like every year, it is necessary to adapt college admission strategies to a changing environment. In years past, relevant changes have included the introduction of a new SAT, the entrance of the University of Chicago into the ranks of test-optional colleges, the outcome of the discrimination lawsuit against Harvard University, the college admissions scandal, and the ever-increasing number of applications received by top colleges. Next year, we expect to see major changes to standardized testing. This year represents the biggest challenge we have ever faced, reacting to the ever-growing number of cancellations and changes brought about by COVID-19. We have moved our students out of physical internships and into virtual internships. We have expanded our use of Zoom and Skype to provide personalized one-on-one instruction. We have dedicated time and resources to identifying new ways to present students as power players in top college admission. And, we are continuing to develop new strategies in response to the pandemic. Fortunately, two things that go hand-in-hand are creativity and time. Now that we are traveling less, we have more time to develop creative, innovative strategies so that our students may continue to enjoy success in their pursuit of education at the best colleges across America.

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