- College Advising and COVID-19: An update (July 2021)
- How is Seattle Academy College Advising a good match for this moment?
- What are the ways College Advising is connecting directly with students during COVID-19?
- What is the Seattle Academy College Advising timeline?
- How is College Advising tracking changes to College Admission?
- Will getting into college be easier? Harder?
- What is currently happening with standardized testing?
- What is Seattle Academy’s current advice to families around standardized testing?
- What are good ways especially for 11th and 12th graders to show interest to colleges? Why does this matter?
- What does Seattle Academy do to support students seeking financial aid from colleges?
- During COVID-19, is Early Decision (E.D.) a good idea? Is it even possible without visiting?
- College Advising dates by grade level 2021 - 2022
- What readings and preparation would you recommend?
- What is Maia Learning and how can I access it?
As with all things COVID-19, this document may be out of date as soon as we publish it. In addition to the outstanding and diverse admission choices by the Class of 2021, additional (but perhaps unsurprising) good news is that Seattle Academy College Advising loves tracking and applying information. We share this in an effort to ensure, at least for one moment, that all upper school grade levels receive the same college update even as the College Advising team continues to monitor, and then share, additional information. Here are answers to general questions we know or suspect families have at this time, followed by College Advising events by grade level.
Seattle Academy College Advising merges its own experienced, organized, information-seeking style with national networks that provide accurate, real-time information. A closely integrated and highly communicative office, College Advising shares and analyzes what it hears, deciding as a team how to apply that information to support all students. It recognizes the challenges and fears associated with COVID-19 even as it sees the present moment as an opportunity to energize and to reimagine Seattle Academy programming and college admission in general. For people who have worked in college admission or advising for their entire careers, this is not only the ultimate professional development opportunity, but a way to apply collective decades of professional experience.
Several things seem especially true now – but are true always. Healthy connections between young people and trusted adults are important, as is trusted information. We know that all students process information differently, especially now. College Advising works to vary its access to students and to how it delivers information.
Our approaches range from an introduction to the office and to standardized testing at an all-school meeting in early October to creating short videos that walk 12th graders through key parts of the process (answering the Common Application “supplement” questions or completing the University of Washington and University of California applications).
At various points most strategic for students, College Advising presents to 11th and 12th grades during their class meetings, meets individually with 11th and 12th graders, sends weekly “what to do now?” emails to 11th and 12th graders, maintains a checklist of tasks in the Maia Learning program (starting at the midpoint of 11th grade), and invites 11th and 12th graders to the 100-150 college representatives “visiting” campus (this year virtually). Of course, College Advising also arranges evening presentations for families on everything from financial aid to standardized testing.
It may sound like a cliché but it really is true: engaging in the opportunities and in the culture of Seattle Academy is an important step in applying to college.
We know every student and family is on a slightly different schedule, however, and we also know college is often a lens through which students and families make decisions of all kinds. For those reasons, we constructed a College Advising office and strategy which ensures 1) families receive answers to their questions and 2) students’ processes are well-organized for maximum effect (and minimum burnout).
Time and space is essential for developing talents born, talents made, and talents discovered which is why with the exception of recruited athletes whose processes may need to begin earlier, it is both strategic and healthy to situate most college advising in the junior and senior years of high school. For the formal college advising process, each student will have an experienced College Advisor, assigned carefully.
We know, however, families sometimes have questions earlier. You can count on our staff to reach out with information to ninth and tenth graders and their families. We participate in a panel for tenth grade parents and guardians that answers common questions about the process. We have a preliminary questionnaire students can fill out if they have interest in seeing colleges while on a family vacation, for example.
We have also dedicated a member of our staff to ninth and tenth grade inquiries. Ninth and tenth grade families, after reading these FAQ, please feel free to contact Taylor Kanemori.
Seattle Academy also provides opportunities for tenth and eleventh grade students to take a remote, practice ACT or SAT during the fall of 2020.
To many, college admission seems a mystery, with an aura of uncertainty from which college admission offices (and media outlets) frankly benefit. To families who love and worry about their children, the added layer of COVID-19 makes college admission seem downright unknowable.
And yet if you have lived and worked in this world for a long time, you know that college admission is far less mysterious and far more predictable than the media and even college admission offices want you to believe. Some parts of this work are an unromantic grind and still other parts exhibit observable patterns, even now.
As hard as it is to believe, there are still a ton of “knowns.” And your partners in College Advising know them.
If you populate a College Advising office with curious people who see college behaviors and admission outcomes unemotionally, and who have fostered relationships with college colleagues wired similarly, you benefit from level headedness and experience in this moment. At Seattle Academy, College Advising is especially adept at analyzing patterns, discussing at length twelfth grade outcomes and how they might differ under present circumstances, watching wait-list activity (which this year continued into the summer), and having on- or off-the-record conversations to gain intelligence from admission friends. We are part of networks that openly share information which the team filters through a specifically Seattle Academy lens. None of this guarantees admission, but it does mean that no one associated with College Advising at Seattle Academy is “flying blind.”
Through its conversations with admission offices, through its recommendation letters for twelfth graders, and through documents it sends along with college applications, College Advising can contextualize everything from Seattle Academy’s position on remote learning, its full and robust program even while remote, and its policies on grading.
For every conversation we have with one twelfth grade parent who thinks that present circumstances might open up additional opportunities we talk to another parent who wonders if the seeming “Wild West” nature of college admission currently makes admission even more challenging. Complexifying this is what was already being described as a “looking demographic storm” signaling a “higher education enrollment cliff” problematic to colleges beginning in 2025. While some worried that the Class of 2020 pursuing more “gap years” than normal would impact admission for the Class of 2021, we also knew that colleges plan for four years of total enrollment, not only one. The reality of this question is a “both/and” answer that depends on College Advisors’ particular knowledge of twelfth graders and their profiles. Each twelfth grader working directly with College Advising receives specific, honest advice that draws on real-time information. There is not a “one size fits all” answer or an edict that “this is the new normal” because each student and situation is different.
In so many ways, this is not new. Throughout our careers, some families have worried their students would not get into college while others overestimated the ease of admission. Some people rely on rumor mills and misinformation to confirm biases and worries. COVID-19 has not changed this thinking, only perhaps given people a new prism through which to see college admission. Fundamentally, colleges that were already very difficult, say those with under a 25% admit rate, remain very difficult. These are reaches for nearly every student who applies to one and College Advising calculates this risk into its recommendations. In short, the doors of college admission did not suddenly fling wide. Our job in College Advising is to remain clear headed about real information and also to balance every COVID-19 silver lining with its countervailing downside.
During COVID-19, colleges generally responded to limited testing opportunities with flexibility, publishing test optional policies that benefitted the Seattle Academy Class of 2021. To date these include the Ivy League, UCs, UW and more. For students especially with strong grades, test optional admission can reinforce the academic and personal parts of their applications, deemphasizing scores which can also be to some students’ advantage.
College Advising tracked these changes closely through the lens of Seattle Academy and its students. This means that each 11th and 12th grade student was advised individually about their best plan for whether to test and which tests (if any) to send. This was a painstaking and surgical process that resulted in positive outcomes individual to the student.
The above prevents, however, a tidy “one size fits all” description of what to do about standardized testing, which can frustrate adults who like clear directions and confuse parents who either tested well and/or have grown accustomed to standardized testing assuming weight (justified or not) in the application process. Together we need to update our thinking as we ensure every student has good, current information and individual coaching.
For the Class of 2022, for example, College Advising will once again work with each senior to help them make choices about whether to take tests, whether to send scores, and specifically which scores to send where. Experience last year confirmed for College Advising that “those who have scores fared better” was both untrue and a huge generalization. By way of example, if for one student testing has always been a point of stress but that student has earned high grades, it made strategic sense not to submit scores, which were usually not required in 2020-2021, and to shine a brighter light on grades. For another student who earned, say, a 32 on the ACT, the College Advisor might use this tool to help the student choose to send the score places it was additive (recognizing that a 32 is ubiquitous in most pools) and not to send it places where it was positioned low within or below the colleges’ middle 50%. As you can see, this is a very different conversation for each student but one that is personalized and strategic.
The uncertainty of the pandemic and colleges’ desire not to discourage applications mean we will likely operate in a heavily test optional space for quite a while if not permanently. Whether future graduating classes benefit from the kind of extensive SAT and ACT prep we have sometimes seen in the past remains to be seen. National Merit, for example, has diminished in its value with some of our own graduates declining to pursue the program last year. While families sometimes think it is a mark of distinction, on its own it tends not to be a credit meaningful on its own to colleges. Outside of its use as a practice test, this renders the PSAT less valuable as its other use can be as National Merit qualifying exam.
To cover bases and give families choice, College Advising has chosen to move forward “on foot and on horseback.” For Fall 2021, we will offer tenth graders the choice to take an optional, remote practice SAT or ACT. Not all students will be ready for this or choose to do this, which is perfectly okay. Eleventh graders may choose the aforementioned optional, remote practice SAT or ACT or choose to sit for an official PSAT on campus. Scores from the remote practice tests are generally available one week after the tests and scores from the official PSAT are generally available around winter break. In November, a guest speaker will talk to 9th-11th grade families about the current state of standardized testing. And College Advising will continue to advise each 12th grader with precision and care.
If you need to discuss testing accommodations, please reach out to Jaymie Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org. There are specific deadlines for accommodations approval so we recommend reaching out to Jaymie earlier rather than later.
The answer to on-site testing is not an easy one. Where possible Seattle Academy has already prioritized special accommodations testing as it is far harder for those testers to test anywhere else as their accommodations are only available on site.
It is not possible only to “flip a switch” and become a test-site. To give a regular, national SAT or ACT, the school must advertise its site and its own students are not guaranteed spots. Some schools have arranged a “closed” SAT. This means the school is only testing its own students. The exclusivity of this is controversial for other reasons, though we’ll address only the practical considerations here. The SAT limits the total number of days when “closed” testing is possible and those days are required to be actual school days. The SAT calls this program “School Day Testing.”
In a normal year, school day testing is difficult at SAAS, which is larger than its peers, because of the complexity of our campus and of our daily schedule. This would increase in a hybrid model when for safe distancing various regular SAAS classes will need to occupy more spaces. We are also reluctant to eliminate already dear class time and to lean on teachers who would instead need to proctor because to test safely we would need to use many more classrooms and proctors than for a pre-COVID standardized test. We also do not want to give students the security of thinking they could test at SAAS only to cancel the test as needed and disappoint students who thought SAAS was their testing sure bet.
We also know that the testing agencies have been unresponsive to schools about materials and protocols for the tests. After recent cases of COVID at an SAT and COVID-positive students asking on Reddit whether it was more important that they stay home sick or take the test, we have additional safety and ethical concerns. Our office takes seriously its responsibility not to trigger additional cases. To say that certain school activities are unsafe, however one should “test at any cost,” both concerns us and flies in the face of what we know firsthand is evolving in college admission.
As always, we monitor all changes to college admission. The vast majority of applicants right now are not able to submit test scores at all, let alone competitive scores. We know from our partners in admission how concerned they are about risky testing behavior, which is only part of the reason so many colleges have adopted test optional or test-free approaches.
We also know internally just how high of a score a tester needs to earn for that score to be advantageous to them when they apply. Some families tend to underestimate how high a score needs to be to attain a certain college and the same families tend to overestimate the need for tests when test optional admission might be to their student’s advantage. Not just “any score” will do and families need to know this. Families may also misperceive access to testing as a way to show tenacity when to admission committees we know it might read as privilege.
This is not a one-sized-fits-all answer yet it is something we track closely for each applicant. We will tell a particular family directly if applying test optional is the greatest advantage for their student, their student’s testing profile, and the colleges they are considering. For years many families and students have decried the existence of standardized testing, citing real student pressures, from emotional stress to the time testing might subtract from academics and activities. We need to consider why people adhere to the tests when we, the experts, tell specific students or families it’s okay to stop.
Even with this expert information, some families continue to pursue one or more tests. Well before COVID-19, public perception of the value of tests lagged the reality of how admission offices actually use testing. If we know in a specific situation that not submitting scores is more helpful, admission-wise, than submitting them, we will continue to reinforce this and to discourage testing for that student. We will say when letting go is actually in the student’s strategic best interest. At some point the investment in testing is not worth the return and we will be frank about this. We will always support our applicants in what they can control and try to help them understand what they cannot.
As we look ahead, through Compass Prep we are offering to the Classes of 2022 and 2023 remote practice SAT and ACT exams, the results of which can help inform the family’s test prep and testing plan, if any. A high percentage of colleges already report that they will continue their test optional or test free practices beyond this admission cycle. University of Washington confirmed at a recent college counselor event that their testing policy will continue after the current application cycle. They specifically recommend putting far less effort into testing and test prep and more into academics and interests. For years Compass has already said that students prep “too much, too early, and for too long.” We know that testing may remain of high interest for certain students and we will use the real information from the October 2020 practice tests to guide families specifically and accordingly. In the end, absent standardized testing, producing with our help a strong application is the most beneficial approach of all.
“Demonstrating interest,” or engaging meaningfully with colleges, works two ways. First, the student learns about the college and hopefully makes an educated decision regarding whether to apply. Second, the college receives a signal that the student would seriously consider the college if admitted. This can be important as colleges try to predict who will accept a possible offer of admission. In working with twelfth graders, we remind them that this meaningful engagement is as (or more) important at so-called “target” and “likely” colleges as at “reach” colleges.
While in the past, visiting campuses was for some families a way to demonstrate interest, COVID-19 of course changed this. And while campus visits are for now again available, the reality is there are many ways to learn about and to connect with colleges. We have always worked with students who applied first and then researched or visited their colleges later. Especially as COVID-19 might affect college visit availability, virtual college visits help students understand colleges better and also demonstrate to colleges that students are potentially serious about them. As of Summer 2021, this fall at SAAS we will offer college reps the choice of whether to visit us in person or virtually.
There is not a “one-size-fits-all” way to do this, but ideas for how eleventh and twelfth graders can engage meaningfully with colleges include signing up for and attending virtual information sessions hosted on the colleges’ own websites, eleventh and twelfth graders attending virtual and in-person college rep visits hosted by Seattle Academy this fall, attending virtual college fairs, pursuing virtual interviews by colleges that offer them, signing up for specific college communications and then sometimes taking action on those communications, and emailing questions to admission offices. At the time of one’s application, drafting a thoughtful and specific response to “Why College X?” questions on applications can also indicate thoughtful research. There is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach for demonstrating interest nor does every student need to pursue every suggestion listed here. It is important to note especially during COVID-19 that visiting colleges is not the only way to find out more about them.
Individual conversations with students yield information about unique family circumstances. This can help College Advisors recommend colleges known for merit scholarships or remind families about the steps required to apply for financial aid. College Advising’s goal is that every college list include colleges where both admission and affordability are likely. A college is not “safer” for admission if it is unreliable for aid. Our experience working with and tracking students for many years has exposed patterns that help us coach students honestly and well.
The federal financial aid form (the FAFSA), which is one of two common forms for 12th graders applying for aid, is available October 1st and its deadlines for seniors vary by college. Before October 1st, however, we host a guest speaker who provides a helpful overview of the financial aid process. This year’s event, held on September 16th, was remote and its recording is available here in English and here with Spanish subtitles. In addition to 12th graders’ work with College Advising, this document walks families through a timeline and resources helpful for financial aid applications. In a weekly email sent to 11th and 12th graders, College Advising also sends reminders about financial aid and scholarships.
This is another answer that is as individual as the student. Here, however, we’ll tell you what we know about Early Decision right now and how it operates during COVID-19.
To start with the basics, Early Decision is one of several admission plans. If one applies, usually in November, under Early Decision and is admitted, the college assumes the student will enroll. Because this creates an agreement of sorts between the student and the college, Early Decision can increase the applicant’s chance of admission. (This can be a “bird in the hand” situation for the college.)
Early Decision, however, does not guarantee admission for every student to every college. Sometimes the benefits of Early Decision (to the college) are not enough for the student to gain admission. While no Early Decision outcome is guaranteed, College Advising is well versed in which colleges are more strategic Early Decision options for a particular student. Based on a lot of past experience, a College Advisor may say, “If you like these two colleges equally, College X would be a far more strategic choice for Early Decision than College Y.” Though Early Decision is not available at all colleges, because Early Decision can be a valuable tool in the toolkit, using it accurately and not necessarily at the most selective college on one’s list can be very important. College Advising will go over this with each student as every situation is different.
It might seem as if COVID-19 has upended the above. How is it possible to predict with any degree of accuracy where a student might gain admission? The reality is that the most selective colleges in the country are going to remain selective, COVID-19 or no. On a college-by-college basis, a Seattle Academy College Advisor can estimate the probability of Early Decision admission. It doesn’t always work out, but with excellent context they will be honest with a family so it can make its strategic decision. College Advisors also know that the certainty presented by a good-fit Early Decision candidate might be more attractive than ever right now to a college concerned this year about its applicant pool or about the future.
The idea of applying Early Decision could be uncomfortable to a student who, because of COVID-19, was unable to visit their Early Decision college before applying. We understand this. Obviously this is not ideal because the student is committing to attend if admitted. Our networks suggest, however, that good College Advisors like us are recommending Early Decision where possible because of the reasons stated above. We should also state here that because of the existence of Early Decision, for good or for ill, the competitiveness of Regular Decision can increase substantially. If Early Decision in November doesn’t work out, there is also the possibility of a second round of Early Decision in January. These are approaches our College Advisors know well and will discuss as appropriate with each student.
If a 12th grader is thinking about Early Decision this year without visiting their college, know that in any year we have always had students apply sight-unseen. By the day, colleges have been forced to enrich their online research resources. College reps are eager to meet with students right now. Seattle Academy alumni are eager to talk to current students about their colleges. We can help facilitate these connections. This fall alone, Seattle Academy will have booked well over one hundred virtual “campus visits” by colleges.
The flipside and even downside of Early Decision is that it benefits families with resources. Because of the Early Decision commitment, students who depend on comparing need-based financial aid packages will not have the benefit of contrasting more than one financial aid package. This is an important conversation to have with College Advising which may know that some Early Decision contenders are historically better than others about awarding aid.
As a last point, Early Decision is different from Early Action or even what some colleges call Restrictive Early Action. Early Decision assumes the student will enroll if admitted while Early Action (and even Restrictive Early Action, which limits the number of overall early applications) is a way to apply early, and often to receive a decision early, but not be expected to attend. While the latter is a way to gain some admission decisions usually before winter break, the lack of the binding commitment of Early Decision means that Early Action also lacks the admission advantage of Early Decision. We recommend that with our guidance 12th graders use Early Action deadlines when available, even if they are also applying Early Decision. Applicants would then withdraw their Early Action applications when and if they are happy with their Early Decision outcome.
Most of the following are for eleventh and twelfth grade students and families though a few events are open to all grade levels. Please check the grade level designation carefully. To aid twelfth grade students and families during their particularly busy fall, we have designated events on which twelfth graders should particularly focus with a (**). For Zoom joining and other details not listed, look forward to instructions we’ll communicate prior to the event.
**September 8: 12th grade only – first day of class and College Advising senior summer assignments due; see 12th grade communication
**September 13-December 10: 11th and 12th graders only – virtual and in-person college rep visits (instructions forthcoming in weekly update emails sent directly to 11th and 12th graders when school starts)
**September 19, 1 PM: 11th and 12th graders only - Seattle Area Independent Schools Virtual College Fair (instructions forthcoming)
**September 28, 7 PM: 12th grade parents and guardians only – college-related 12th grade parent meeting; via Zoom
**September 29-October 1: Grade level retreats including 12th grade retreat on campus, one day of which will be dedicated entirely to the college process
**October 1: 12th graders only – ensure your college list is finalized by this date so College Advising can review it (instructions forthcoming)
**October 1: 12th graders and their families only – FAFSA (or Free Application for Federal Student Aid) application available to begin completion here. Check your colleges’ financial aid requirements and deadlines.
October 6, 7 PM: 11th grade parents and guardians only – college-related 11th grade parent meeting; via Zoom
**October 11, 7 PM: all upper school grades – Guide to College Financing with guest speaker Bryan Gould, Associate Director of Student Financial Services (and former college admission officer); via Zoom
October 16, 8 AM: 11th graders only (optional) on-site PSAT (Jaffe Room, Temple Building); register here no later than one week beforehand
October 23, 9 AM - 10th and 11th graders only – optional home/virtual practice SAT; register here no later than one week beforehand after which you will receive confirmation email and instructions
October 30, 9 AM - 10th and 11th graders only – optional home/virtual practice ACT; register here no later than one week beforehand after which you will receive confirmation email and instructions
**November 1 – 12th graders only – popular application deadline for many early action, early decision, and priority applications
November 6, 9 AM - 10th and 11th graders only – optional home/virtual practice ACT; register here no later than one week beforehand after which you will receive confirmation email and instructions
November 9, 7 PM: Matty Steiner speaks about standardized testing; via Zoom
December 7, 7 PM: 11th graders and their families only – 11th Grade College Kick-Off; via Zoom
**December 13: 12th graders only – last day to give College Advisor any writing for review that you need back by Friday the 17th specifically for any college deadline that falls within winter break, no exceptions
**Evening of December 17-January 4: Winter break, College Advising closed during this time; 12th graders, please plan ahead. If 12th graders add applications during this time, we will send school documents on January 4 (this is fine, just FYI).
**February 1: 12th graders only – even if occasional deadlines fall later, please complete all applications by this date
Evening of February 18-morning of February 28: Midwinter break, College Advising closed during this time
April 4-17: College Advising work/work travel + Spring Break; College Advising closed during this time
April 26 and 27: – 11th graders only – Application Case Studies (mock application review) Program one of two nights (family choice), details forthcoming
May 2 – 11th graders only – no sooner than this, 11th graders begin asking teachers for recommendation letters following College Advising guidance (through end of school year)
**May 2 – 12th graders only – the date by which seniors must commit to one college
May 11, 7 PM – 11th grade parents and guardians only – college-related 11th grade parent meeting (details forthcoming)
**May 17, 7 PM – 12th graders and their parents only – college related 12th grade family meeting (details forthcoming)
**June 7, subject to change - Graduation
Summer 2022 – Class of 2023 only – College Advising Summer Assignments for Rising Seniors
Our office reads - a lot - and we love to share recommendations! If you’re ready to “get started” in this process, here are two great ways to begin:
A complement to this personal advising is a web-based program called Maia Learning to which Seattle Academy eleventh grade and twelfth grade families have access once they start their process officially with College Advising.
Please remove final sentence about younger families and guests.