What a year to be thinking about choosing a college! A year of change has led to many adjustments in the typical ways that high school students determine which college is the best fit, and college counseling offices at high schools across the country are adapting to serve students and families. Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School’s Director of College Counseling, Danny Tejada, is ready to support his students as they navigate the college admissions process during the global pandemic.
Here are Mr. Tejada’s tips for finding the college that is the best fit for you in 2020:
- 1. Take advantage of alternatives to campus visits
Colleges and universities have quickly pivoted to expand the virtual options for connecting with students. Check college websites to take virtual tours, chat with admissions professionals, and get a sense of the student experience. Check out youvisit.com, a pioneer in the virtual visit space even before the pandemic, to see virtual tours of institutions across the country. Register for and attend a virtual college fair, and follow colleges on social media. Social media platforms really give students a view of what life is like and often are a great way to hear student voices and experiences. Colleges and universities are investing in countless ways for you to learn about them! It’s easier and cheaper than ever to expand your search. Once you apply, email your admissions representative at the college or university to check in, introduce yourself, and show demonstrated interest!
- 2. Research test free and test optional policies so you understand how college admissions offices are making decisions; build your habits and focus on your studies!
The pandemic has impacted the ability of students to prepare for and take standardized tests like the ACT and SAT. Colleges understand students; testing struggles, and the admissions process is changing nationwide as more colleges and universities adopt test free and test optional policies. According to FairTest, more than 60% of colleges and universities recognized by the U.S. Department of Education have chosen to institute a test optional policy. Studies show that policies like these increase the diversity of college campuses.
Don’t give into the hype that you hear about how important standardized testing is. Prioritize your health, build good habits, and focus on your studies. Your high school grades matter now more than ever. Use the resources you have to create the conditions for you to present yourself in the best way possible to admissions committees. There is a growing recognition that a standardized test score is just a snapshot of how a student performed on one particular day, while your grades and your contributions to your high school community show how a student can be successful over time. In 2014, an extensive study on students at test optional colleges comparing those who did and did not submit test scores found there was “virtually no difference in academic performance” between them.
To have a strong transition into college, students must be able to advocate for themselves and take advantage of the resources on campus. A student’s daily skills, habits, and actions indicate how successful they will be in the college environment.
- 3. Start early in planning for the financial aspect of college
The earlier you start planning for covering tuition and expenses during college, the better. College counselors can offer support in planning. Most institutions offer a net price calculator feature on their websites. Fill this out to inform your plan. Visit websites of the schools you apply to and learn about how scholarship and financial aid determinations are made. In general, families focus too much on the aid they can get and ignore outside scholarship opportunities that may be available to them. Finding scholarships and applying to them takes time and effort. If you want to graduate with little or no debt, you need to plan early and put in the work. There is so much opportunity out there for students who go after it!
- 4. Build strong relationships at your high school
Finally, younger students should begin to build strong relationships and connections with teachers and adults at their high school. Trust in your counselors and teachers. We want you to be happy and successful in the college application process, and that is why we are here – for you! At Villa, our student-to-teacher ratio is low. The relationships between teachers and students are very strong, and as a result, each member of our senior class has several teachers who know them well and can write positive letters of recommendation for them.
Mr. Tejada believes that a Villa Duchesne education prepares students for what college life will be like. Here, students are encouraged to continuously challenge themselves and practice self-advocacy so that the transition to the independence of college is as smooth as possible. Each year, Mr. Tejada works with students and families, meeting every two weeks throughout the college application process. Members of Villa’s Class of 2020 were admitted to 14 colleges that rank among the top 50 and an additional 27 colleges that rank among the top 100 (according to US News and World Report). The class received more than 2.8 million dollars in scholarships per year of college. Visit www.vdoh.org/admissions/welcome to learn more about Villa Duchesne!
Alice Dickherber is director of Marketing and Communications for Villa Duchesne and Oak Hill School