College Admissions and Coronavirus: Advice for High School Sophomores

March 23, 2020

For academically-inclined 10th grade students, the abrupt shuttering of their high school due to the coronavirus pandemic was not met with the type of youthful glee that follows a run-of-the-mill snow day announcement. Rather, this global emergency, which has already altered the lives of the majority of human beings on the planet, has ripped American teens from the lively, goal-oriented, and immensely social environment of their school, banishing them to the strange, shapeless isolation of home. Perhaps most psychologically challenging, COVID-19 has introduced an element of uncertainty into our world that is wholly unfamiliar and may be alternatingly sad and scary. The following blog will not be a panacea for these complex and difficult emotions, but our team does wish to provide some guidance within our area of expertise, in hopes that it can help your son or daughter focus on long-term goals and feel a sense of control in at least one facet of their lives.

At least in a college admissions sense, 10th graders will be less tangibly impacted by the interruption to the school year than juniors and seniors. However, high-achieving sophomores that were eyeing upcoming events like competitive summer programs, SAT Subject Tests, and AP exams may be more impacted than others. Let’s begin by looking at the latest information on changes to standardized test administration:

SAT Subject Tests

Many 10th graders elect to take an SAT Subject Test after completing a relevant course like chemistry, biology, or algebra + geometry (which are both covered on the Mathematics Level 1 exam). The May 2nd test date has officially been cancelled by the College Board who stated that they “will provide future additional SAT testing opportunities for students as soon as possible in place of cancelled administrations.” Additionally, they “have not yet canceled the June 6, 2020 SAT administration and will continue to assess its status, with the health and safety of students and educators as our top priority.”

PSAT “School Day” Administration Postponed

It will come as little surprise that high schools that were planning to give the PSAT 10 during the school day on March 25th will no longer be doing so. The College Board has yet to decide about additional administrations later in the spring, but we see little reason for optimism. The College Transitions team recommends that in lieu of this opportunity, students should avail themselves of online resources like the Khan Academy’s cost-free SAT prep courses. A study released by the College Board found that just 20 hours of targeted practice through Khan Academy resulted in an average score gain of 115 points.

AP Exams

Precocious 10th graders, already enrolled in Advanced Placement courses need to know that the College Board announced that all AP exams will be taken at home, online in the spring of 2020. Only three-quarters of the traditional content will be covered to account for the fact that instruction ended for most teens in early March. For an in-depth look at how AP tests will administered, visit our blog entitled AP Exams – Changes Due to Coronavirus.

Summer Programs

Most students have submitted their applications to summer programs by this time and some have already received their acceptances. Will these programs still be offered? Unfortunately, it is impossible to definitively know the answer to that question right now, but there is certainly reason for optimism that large group gatherings may be okay by the summer. If they are not, our conversations with our summer program colleagues suggest that some programs will be shifted online, while others, like language immersion programs are highly likely to be cancelled. Experiential and lab-based programs will also have more difficulty shifting to an online format and are at an increased risk for outright cancellation.

We recommend having a solid backup plan in the event that your summer program is cancelled. Preferably, this backup plan will be local or online. For example, if you were planning on attending a residential pre-med summer program in another city/state, work on lining up a local opportunity such as volunteering at a nearby hospital or taking a pre-med related course online. In fact, universities like Brown, Cornell, Rice, Tufts, and Boston University all offer summer courses online that are open to high school students and the best news is that most have rolling deadlines that extend into May or June. For more, check out our blog highlighting the Top 10 Online Summer Programs for High School Students.

Extracurricular Involvement

Some students are worrying about how this break in extracurricular activities will look down the road on their college applications. We can assure you that no one is going to judge you for this prolonged period of inactivity. The nation is dealing with the worst health crisis of our lifetime and all teens in your cohort are facing the same circumstances. If you are an athlete or member of a club that only meets face-to-face, there is nothing to be done at this present time. If you are into something like chess, computer programming, or Esports, you will, of course, be able to make productive use of these homebound weeks/months. Otherwise, this could be an opportunity to take up a new hobby, read great works of literature, complete an independent study of a topic you find interesting, or dive into some other solitary endeavor that you may have never otherwise had the free time to pursue.

Begin the College Search Early

Still in the nascent stages of their college search process, 10th graders should use some of the downtime imposed by social distancing to get the jump on conducting college research. Our list of the Best College Guidebooks can be a good starting point. You can also take virtual tours online, learn more about potential majors and career paths, and develop an understanding of college costs relative to your family’s financial situation.

Final Thoughts

Dr. Anthony Fauci, our nation’s leading expert on infectious diseases, believes that Americans may not be able to gather in large groups for another eight weeks or more. As such, this may be a challenging time emotionally for your 10th grade student, especially if they enjoy learning and are deeply involved socially and in extracurricular activities at their high school. As parents ourselves, the best thing we can do is ensure that our kids are still learning, feeling productive, and meeting goals, even during this surreal, unprecedented, and yet-to-be-defined period of time. We should remind the young people in our lives (and ourselves) that life will eventually return to normal and that all the exciting things in life—like applying to and attending college—are still on the horizon.