- College Advising and COVID-19: An update (July 24, 2020)
- How is Seattle Academy College Advising a good match for this moment?
- 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 are good ways especially for 11th and 12th graders to show interest to colleges? Why does this matter?
- College Advising dates by grade level 2020-2021
- 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As with all things COVID-19, this document may be out of date as soon as we publish it.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 2020, 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.
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 levelheadedness 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,” even now.
Through its conversations with admission offices, through its recommendation letters for twelfth graders, and through documents such as the School Profile, College Advising can contextualize everything from Seattle Academy’s early 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 “looming demographic storm” signaling a “higher education enrollment cliff” problematic to colleges beginning in 2025. While some worry that the Class of 2020 pursuing more “gap years” than normal impacts admission for the subsequent class, we also know 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 sized 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, will 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 clearheaded about real information and also to balance every COVID-19 silver lining with its countervailing downside.
Standardized testing is frequently a stressful topic when applying to college, and during COVID-19 approaches to standardized testing seem to change daily, which for some can only increase anxiety. As soon as College Advising writes this, information will likely change, one reason we track this topic carefully and update this response periodically. Another great resource is this page by Compass Education Group which archives there its most popular and most current information on standardized testing. In the following answer we will attempt to address what Seattle Academy can and cannot safely offer in the way of standardized tests as well as how to activate next steps if standardized testing remains important to you and your family.
No matter the social distancing precautions implemented, because students and adult test proctors, who are often faculty, test for long periods of time in enclosed spaces, SAT and ACT test centers are understandably limited and only growing more so. Colleges are well aware of this and changing their assessment approaches to address current circumstances, something we’ll discuss later in this document. Schools make the important choice not to expose students to harm, not to demand faculty proctor one or more exams when their school is otherwise remote or even hybridized, and not to endanger facilities personnel who do the significant but often unseen work of preparing physical spaces for these tests.
And yet students who have worked hard to prepare for one or both of the ACT or SAT may feel they wasted hard work and sometimes money preparing for exams that are cancelled, one after another. We hear and understand this frustration. In that moment, we know it is hard to see how cancellation is for the community’s health. Instead high schools may be seen as unaccommodating at best or the barrier to a certain score or to a particular college admission offer that also was never guaranteed. There are no easy answers and our close work with students and families connects us first-hand to this frustration.
Some high schools may try to establish so-called “closed” test centers, hoping to test only their own students, only to announce later that doing so is unwise, unsafe, or even unauthorized. While the equity of opening a test site but disallowing outside testers is another important topic of debate, particularly in light of current conversations about systemic bias, on a basic level it is currently wishful thinking to assume any on-site testing, at any high school site, is safe or possible this fall. It is our strong sense that most schools will not be able to make good on these offers of exclusive sites and that doing so also violates current State guidelines, even once King County moves to Phase 3. While there is much during COVID-19 we cannot control, where possible we do not want to promise something only to disappoint families and have them scramble to make other plans.
During the time students are not allowed on Seattle Academy’s campus, unfortunately we will not offer special school-based testing for students with unique accommodations. This smaller-scale testing for students with accommodations unserved by national test centers would be the first testing to resume once students are allowed back on campus.
Though we will also not offer the PSAT in October, Seattle Academy has partnered with Compass Education Group to arrange its first-ever optional, remote practice SAT and ACT for tenth and eleventh grades this fall. Compass will proctor these tests for us for free, providing paper exams for any student with challenging home internet, and provide results that will inform next steps for the Classes of 2022 and 2023. In making our arrangements with Compass we learned we were among the first of its partner schools to inquire about this practice testing model for both tenth and eleventh grades. While current circumstances obviously prevent clarity on many topics, where possible Seattle Academy has been decisive and communicative.
We know these approaches still may not please everyone. We know that testing can seem a “controllable” variable in a process that can – even in a “normal” year - seem hard to control. We know that families will sometimes take risks in having their students test regardless, something we do not advocate for the safety of the student and adults involved. We are aware that sometimes students travel to states with fewer restrictions and higher COVID-19 cases to try to take an exam. We resist this thinking and urge families to rethink this risk when – no matter the investment of time, money, or test prep – no score is guaranteed and no score is worth the health risk.
Throughout the pandemic, Seattle Academy College Advisors realistically and responsibly coached each member of the Class of 2021 with both “testing” and “not testing” in mind. After reading the answer to this question and in consultation with twelfth graders’ College Advisors, if testing remain a priority for you and your family, twelfth graders should continue to attempt to register for national test sites through SAT and ACT while partnering with their College Advisors in establishing sound alternatives that do not include testing.
Colleges have responded to limited testing opportunities with ever-increasing flexibility, publishing test optional (scores are not required to apply) and even test blind (scores are not considered at all) policies. To date this list includes the nation’s most selective colleges and more. Clarity around reduction of or elimination of scores’ importance for things like scholarship programs only grows by the day. For students especially with strong grades, test optional admission can shine a brighter light on the academic and personal parts of their applications, deemphasizing scores which can also be to some students’ advantage. If a student was never likely to score above a college’s particular middle-50% range, requisite for submission of any score right now, new test optional plans may now put “in play” colleges that were not before.
In multiple places within the application College Advisors are also able to contextualize Seattle Academy’s early move to remote learning and the relative lack of standardized testing in the greater Seattle area. One example follows.
Please note that on Friday, March 6, 2020, due to early COVID-19 cases in Washington State, Seattle Academy was among the first schools in the country to announce remote learning. Almost immediately, Seattle Academy engaged students in a full, online program for which students earned letter grades save for rare circumstances where a pass grade made sense. Teachers worked tirelessly to engage students meaningfully and to grade them fairly. A leader nationally in this transition, Seattle Academy teachers and administrators also helped other schools develop their remote programs. As Seattle was among the first U.S. cities to address COVID-19, and its restrictions have remained strict, we expect very few of our students will have the opportunity to take standardized tests before they apply.
Whether colleges that implement and then prefer test optional admission will return to their former policies remains to be seen. We are tracking everything from developments of home/remote exams to a future where different assessments or even zero assessments replace current SAT and ACT practices. While it might not seem so, advising the current senior Class of 2021 becomes relatively straightforward as testing opportunities decline and we use this “known” to concretize the college list. 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 it tends not to be a credit meaningful on its own to colleges. And yet College Advising is a prepared and organized office that continues to move forward “on foot and on horseback,” advising each student should a testing opportunity become available and another where testing might be unavailable, unsafe, or even reimagined by colleges and testers for the better.
“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, 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 changes college visit availability, virtual college visits help students understand colleges better and also demonstrate to colleges that students are potentially serious about them.
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 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-sized-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.
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 8-November 13: 11th and 12th graders only – virtual college rep visits (instructions forthcoming in weekly update emails sent directly to 11th and 12th graders when school starts)
- September 13, 9AM-5PM PT: all upper school grades – NACAC Virtual College Fair (#1 of 4), information here
- **September 16, 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 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: 12th grade parents and guardians only – college-related 12th grade parent meeting; via Zoom
- October 9: 10th and 11th graders only – deadline to register here for optional home/virtual practice SAT on October 17
- October 12, 10 AM-6PM PT: all upper school grades – NACAC Virtual College Fair (#2 of 4), information here
- October 14, 7 PM: 11th grade parents and guardians only – college-related 11th grade parent meeting; via Zoom
- October 17, 8 AM for extended time test; 9 AM for standard time test: 10th and 11th graders only (optional) home/virtual practice SAT; register here after which you will receive confirmation email and instructions
- October 18, 9 AM-5 PM PT: all upper school grades – NACAC Virtual College Fair (#3 of 4), information here
- **October 18, time TBD: 11th and 12th graders only - Seattle Area Independent Schools College Summit with college admission deans leading sessions on different topics (instructions forthcoming)
- October 23: 10th and 11th graders only – deadline to register here for optional home/virtual practice ACT on October 31
- October 31, 8 AM for extended time test; 9 AM for standard time test - 10th and 11th graders only – home/virtual practice ACT; register here 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 8, 11 AM-7 PM PT: all upper school grades – NACAC Virtual College Fair (#4 of 4), information here
- November 10, 7 PM: all upper school grades – Navigating College Admission Tests with guest speaker Matt Steiner. Registration required here (scroll down).
- December 7, 7 PM: 11th graders and their families only – 11th Grade College Kick-Off; via Zoom
- **December 14: 12th graders only – last day to give College Advisor any writing for review that you need back by Friday the 18th specifically for any college deadline that falls within winter break, no exceptions
- **Evening of December 18-January 3: 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 12-morning of February 22, 2021: Midwinter break, College Advising closed during this time
- April 8-18, 2021: Spring Break, College Advising closed during this time
- April, date and time TBD – 11th graders only – Application Case Studies (mock application review) Program one of two nights (family choice), details forthcoming
- May 1 – 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 1 – 12th graders only – the date by which seniors must commit to one college
- May 10, 7 PM – 11th grade parents and guardians only – college-related 11th grade parent meeting (details forthcoming)
- **May 11, 7 PM – 12th graders and their parents only – college related 12th grade family meeting (details forthcoming)
- **June 8, subject to change - Graduation
- Summer 2021 – Class of 2022 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.