February College Search Guide

San Diego State University. | Courtesy photo

The road to college

By May S. Ruiz 

It’s been 13 months since the first signs of coronavirus in the United States were reported. To date, there have been more than 25.45 million cases of infection and over 425,000 deaths, with January being the pandemic’s deadliest month. While the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are now available, getting most of the population vaccinated is still several months ahead.            

Students have been learning remotely since last spring; teachers have never been busier  preparing for the day’s lessons and trying to engage distracted learners during virtual class; and parents are struggling to keep their job and helping their young kids keep up with schoolwork all at once.

In an effort to get students back on campus, Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled last month a $2-billion plan called ‘Safe Schools for All.’ However, it wasn’t ratified by the California Legislature. In an L.A. Times article on Jan. 24, John Myers wrote that the mechanics of the proposal weren’t the only challenge. Education advocates argued that most of the funds would have been used to provide COVID-19 testing for staff and students instead of going towards educational and social-emotional services to benefit students. Several school districts are going their own way in deciding when and how to open their campus safely.

There are several tutoring services available if you and your children require help with schoolwork. Find one which offers options that fit your children’s specific need and your family’s budget. A company called Mundo Academy provides excellent tutoring services in the Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley area. Likewise, some high school and college students have created free tutoring services and learning platforms to help children during the coronavirus pandemic. Two of these organizations include Sailors Learning and Wave Learning Festival.                     

If you’re exhausted, as most of us are at this time, please reach out for assistance. The C.D.C. has put together a resource kit for parents, divided by age group, to help them ensure their children’s well-being. The site also has links to other resources that cover various concerns. Another C.D.C. webpage is dedicated to helping parents manage stress during the coronavirus pandemic.           

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has resulted in changes to the college application process. The biggest upheaval was doing away with standardized testing for this cycle. Ivy schools received an unprecedented number of applications because of this, and will be delaying sending out acceptances to process them. The College Board had to cancel multiple rounds of testing last year, which meant a significant revenue loss. Last month, it announced the elimination of the SAT subject tests and essay. It added that APs – which are widely available – showcase students’ knowledge, and there are other ways students can demonstrate writing ability. But even before the pandemic, many universities were no longer requiring SAT and ACT scores as part of college applications; scrapping standardized testing altogether might not be far behind. The coronavirus could only hasten the inevitable.      

|Courtesy photo

FRESHMAN

Your children are well into the second semester of ninth grade and are now fully engaged in the academic life at their school. With grades as the only benchmark for an applicant’s merit for acceptance, the student’s GPA is the single most important component of their college application. If their first semester marks need improvement, now is the time to turn things around.

Admissions officers will not expect your children to have extra-curricular activities during the coronavirus pandemic. However, they will be interested to know how students spent their time outside of remote learning. Encourage your children to find virtual volunteer work or earn online certificates to put on their curriculum vitae. Hopefully, this time next year we’ll have some normalcy in our lives and students can resume some of the activities they have put on hold.              

SOPHOMORE

Your children need to really understand and learn the courses they’re taking so that the final grades on their transcript are the best they could earn. The schools they will be applying to will only see the grades in their three years in high school. If their first semester grades weren’t stellar, they need to improve this semester. They need to ‘meet’ with their grade class dean to make sure their grades and courses are on the right track for graduation. While the SAT and ACT are no longer required by universities, AP scores are still being used as a gauge of college-readiness and your children should register for the test (www.collegeboard.com).

JUNIOR

I cannot emphasize this enough – junior year is the last complete year that college admissions officers will be looking at when your children send their application. They need to maintain their good grades and the pursuits that replaced their extra-curricular activities. If they had good study habits back in ninth grade and have established a routine, they shouldn’t be feeling overwhelmed right now.    

For most students, meeting frequently with their school’s counselors isn’t always a possibility. In some high schools where there are as many as 400 seniors to four full-time counselors, a junior may not even get any face-to-face time with a counselor. This puts the onus on your children to be very resourceful, take the initiative in gathering their research material, and plan their course of action as they embark on the college application process. This was a pre-pandemic fact that has become all the more glaring with COVID-19. Seek the services of an independent counselor if you need help.      

Meanwhile, as the parent of a junior, you should also make sure your child is on track – has taken all the courses the high school requires for graduation and is taking all the courses to complete the UC and Cal State requirements.                

You and your children should do a virtual college tour. They might also want to make a phone call or have a Zoom chat with a current student to learn more about the school. More often than not, current college students and alums are happy to talk about their alma mater.    

SENIOR

Your children should not take for granted that they are all done with schoolwork because they have sent in their college application. Don’t let them succumb to ‘senioritis’ – they still have to submit their final transcript. Unlike last school year when teachers cut students a lot of slack because of the pandemic, they are more strict now that everyone has settled to the ‘new normal.’ Universities can rescind their acceptance if admissions officers see a drastic drop in the student’s grades. In fact, a single lower mark can trigger some questions. Moreover, third-quarter grades are critical in case they are waitlisted. And, in the unfortunate event they realize the school they were accepted to isn’t the right fit for them, senior-year grades will be crucial if they decide to apply for a transfer.

Additionally, seniors need to be mindful of their social activities. Schools are tech-savvy – they check social media profiles of students they have accepted and can rescind that offer if they find unacceptable behavior. Your children should be mindful of what may end up online.         

Your children should confirm with the colleges to make sure they have all the documents they require. They should continue applying for scholarships (www.scholarships.com; www.collegexpress.com; www.scholarships360.org, www.fastweb.com, www.studentaid.ed.gov, www.affordablecollegesonline.org/graduating-debt-free) and getting their FAFSA (www.fafsa.ed.gov) ready for submission.

If your children have received new awards or commendations, or have accomplished something significant since they sent in their college application, they should email this important update to the admissions officer or the area representative of the school they applied to.

The months following the end of the college application process are usually as anxiety-ridden for seniors as well as parents. While everyone has breathed a sigh of relief that the mad rush is over, the waiting period is just as nerve-wracking. In the next few weeks, some college decisions will be trickling in.

Remind your children to be careful how they share their good news as their friends might be getting some bad news at the same time. If they have been accepted to their ‘safety school’ but aren’t planning on attending it, they should resist the urge to boast about it as it might be someone else’s ‘dream school.’

Most of all, your children need to be patient – the answer will eventually arrive and nothing can hurry it up. Colleges notify at different times and in different ways. They shouldn’t read into the timing of the decision letters; their friends getting good news early doesn’t necessarily mean a bad outcome for them.       

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