The June SAT has been cancelled, as were the March and May tests before it and the April ACT as well. At the time of writing this, ACT is adamant that they will be offering tests in June and July, even adding test dates to both months to accommodate the 1 million or so students who haven’t taken their first test.
As a result of the test cancellations, dozens of colleges and universities have announced “test optional” policies, at a minimum for the class of 2021 but often for multiple years.
Most students have much lighter academic requirements and they’re not having to attend lots of after school events. As disruptive as the time is, it’s also a great opportunity to get ready for the Fall. So, what should a high school Junior be doing right now to give themselves the best chance to get into the college of their choice?
Complete an aptitude test
I get to meet with about 200 high school students a year. During that meeting, I always ask what they want to major in. If they have an answer (most don’t), it’s typically business or engineering. (Pre-med and pre-law are also frequent fliers in those meetings. Thanks a lot modern television.) They’ve been good at math and people told them engineers are good at math. Or they’re told they’re a “people person” and that would be great in business. Clearly they should major in business. Right?
Students could take advantage of this time to complete an aptitude and interest inventory that would help them understand what they’re good at, what they’re interested in, and what careers match up with those qualities. YouScience offers a great starting point. It normally costs $29, and right now they’re offering a 50% discount. (At least they were when I wrote this — I bet if you asked, they’d honor it. They’re good people.)
YouScience isn’t some Buzzfeed “which Disney princess are you” quiz where every option gives you warm fuzzies. It’s an assessment of what you are good at and how those things line up with particular careers. You can read about those careers and find out exactly what you’d have to major in. You can also discover if graduate school is necessary.
The toughest part of completing YouScience is that it takes 90 minutes. Most of the assessments are timed, and it’s a matter of how many things you can complete during that time. It’s going to take 90 minutes. During the school year, it’s often tough to get students to put that into their day. But right now, after they wake up at the crack of noon, they can sit at the kitchen table and do the assessments while they nibble on their Pop-Tarts.
Rick Clark, Dean of Admissions at Georgia Tech, has a great blog about admissions. You should subscribe to the mailing list whether Georgia Tech is on your list or not. One of his key suggestions is that the key to admission is knowing the college’s mission. Students should know what the mission of the school is as well as what programs the school offers that they’ll be a part of . This has become especially true of “selective” schools.
The truth is that most high school students know they will “major” in something, but they don’t have a really good idea what that means or what it will look like when they’re in college. Now is the perfect time to do that research. Complete the aptitude test and then start looking into schools that offer the major that interests you. Use a resource like College Navigator to start the search process.
In addition, start building a spreadsheet to keep track of what you find. Initial categories can be things like School, Program, GPA, Test Scores. They can later add application due dates and account information. I’ve even seen people suggest tracking things like quality of food or size of student body.
Connect with your teachers
We can be certain that admissions offices will be looking at SAT and ACT scores differently next year. Many have already announced some form of a test optional policy. You might be lucky enough to have a great test score in your pocket that you’ll be able to use for your applications. However, it’s also likely that teacher recommendations will play a bigger role, especially if applying under a “test optional” policy is better for you.
Thankfully, you have a great time to make even better connections with your teachers. Attend their online meetings. Make sure you’re turning in the best work you’re capable of, not just enough to get the grade. When it comes time to write a letter of recommendation, they’ll be able to talk about you with specific examples of what you’re capable of.
You may still need a test score. You likely have extra time on your hands right now. Take advantage of it to take practice tests or work with a tutor to keep improving. It’s the perfect time for that. At a minimum, use Khan Academy for 15 minutes a day. Connect it to your College Board account to see exactly what skills you need to focus on most.
When you take practice tests, be sure to look closely at the questions you missed. More than just looking at the right answer, be sure you think through why you got the wrong answer. Identify the mistake you make so you’ll be aware of them when you take the test in the future.
Make a plan
College applications are coming whether COVID-19 wants them to or not. Now’s the perfect time to come up with a plan. If you want help, schedule an online consultation with me. They’re free, and we’ll take a look at where you are and where you want to be.