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    College Applications During the Pandemic

    Posted January 25, 2022, 12:00 am by Joyce Slayton Mitchell

    College Applications During the Pandemic

    College applications have been changed by the pandemic. However, no matter where in the world you are from — Vermont, New York City, Bozeman, or Shanghai, China — this blog is about you, not the pandemic. No matter how center to your life the pandemic is, remember it’s the same personal problem for every student applying to college from all over the world.

    The college won’t need to have you tell them how hard it’s been, because they are fully aware of it.   What the college will want to know is how you handled whatever was thrown at you because of the pandemic.  How you dealt with staying on track, studying and working your way through the many changes in your school and classes during the pandemic.  The colleges want to know how you handled the particular changes you had to make in junior and senior years. Like always, they also want to know what you are looking for in a college, how independent you are, how much structure you like, how social you are, how interested you are in the performing arts, in sports, in reading.

    There Are No Right Answers

    The admissions deans purpose in all of their questions is not to find “right” answers but to get you thinking in very specific terms. If a senior tells me that she plays soccer, I ask her which position, what was the competition like this year?  How did she contribute to the team? It’s not that colleges are looking for statistics in soccer but they are looking for the particular details of those things that make a student unique. Being specific and being “authentically you” are the only ways that students can separate themselves from their classmates and the rest of the applicant pool (the group of applicants applying to the same college).

    You will make many decisions about which aspects of yourself to highlight on your applications. And you are going to decide which interesting specifics about your life, your interests, and your studies distinguish you from your classmates.  You should be ready to collect data about the different college cultures by reading about many, many colleges and universities and listening to others talk about even more colleges.

    Do Your Research and Understand Your Options

    In January of senior year, most of you will know where you are going to apply.  When you are working on your applications and the question is, “Why do you want to come to UVM?  To Colgate?  To Boston University?  To Northwestern?”  The answer should be tailored to that particular campus. The college dean shouldn’t be able to take Duke out of your essay and substitute Washington University or MIT and have it work for all three colleges.  By learning to collect data on the campus cultures (life on campus), you will learn how the colleges are different one from the other. The college dean wants to know how well you know these differences. What is there about the match of that particular campus culture that you think will enable you to take advantage of the opportunities they offer you there?

    Learning your options is what decision making is all about. Knowing what’s out there before you decide is crucial for good decision-making. When the waitress asks you what kind of salad dressing you want on your salad, you have to know your options before you can choose. When your aunt asks you where you are going to college, you can tell her that you’re still researching your options before you decide.

    Don't Let College Applications Define You

    The college selection process is a decision-making process. But unlike many other decisions, it’s a tough process because it’s so visible to everyone. Everybody wants to know, to compare, to judge, to give students advice and opinions.  No future decision will carry as much social visibility as the college choice. Parents, brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, neighbors and peers will ask, “Where are you applying? Are you applying early? Isn’t that a party school? What are your SATs? Did you get in?”

    Students and their families will often feel as if their whole identity is wrapped up in the names of the colleges and universities to which they apply. Even though this is not true, it’s easy to get carried away with this emotionally-loaded process and to forget that identity is based on so many more things than where a student goes to college. For example, identity comes from where a student lives, their high school experiences, their parents’ occupations and income, the level of education of family members, their ethnic and religious backgrounds, attitudes, interests, values, and ideals. Even so, never again will a student’s decision seem so important to so many others. Students will never again be asked to make a decision that everyone else in the world will know so much about. Social visibility is an extra burden of the college selection process.

    Conclusion

    Try to focus on the educational opportunities the college selection process presents.  In this situation, you must learn how to distinguish yourselves from your peers and create ways in which to highlight your personal characteristics. This experience builds character. It will help you to discover a way to think and act that you’ll use all through your life.  It is an opportunity to learn about yourself and to develop skills to communicate what you learn.

    Working out decisions at home and school and learning to highlight strengths will build confidence.  So try to turn the college selection process from an emotionally loaded, no-control, anxiety-ridden experience to a positive educational experience that will provide you an opportunity to learn more about yourself.  To learn how to research the colleges and universities from which you have to choose, and to learn how to communicate a new self-awareness to get what you want—a college or university environment in which you will be most productive and happy.

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    Joyce Slayton Mitchell

    Joyce Slayton Mitchell

    Joyce Slayton Mitchell, former public and school college counselor, author of WHO IS THIS KID? COLLEGES WANT TO KNOW! Writing Exercises for Winning Applications, 2019; 8 First Choices: Strategies for Getting in, 4th Edition, 2020. Education Consultant for U.S. College Admissions, US and China.

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