Q.If I’m still finalizing my college list and because of Covid-19 I can’t visit campuses, are there other things I should be doing to prepare to apply?

A.Even if you can’t visit and your list is not final, there is plenty you can do. Like you, college admissions offices are having to do things differently during the Covid pandemic. Take advantage of the virtual offerings at the colleges that interest you; you may be able to “visit” more colleges this way than you would in-person. Create your profile on either the Coalition Application or the Common Application (the choice depends on the colleges you are considering) and include the colleges on your list. You can add additional colleges at a later date.

September is also a great time to ask for letters of recommendation and to polish your essay (topics are listed on the Coalition and Common applications). These provide the reader insight, beyond your grades and test scores, into who you are as an individual, and depending on the college, they can play a significant role in your overall application.  This year, the essay is likely to be an even greater opportunity given that many students have been unable to take standardized tests and grading was sometimes pass/fail last spring and may be this fall too.

Regardless of your essay topic, make sure to write in your voice and relate the topic back to you. Use this as an opportunity to share what’s important to you, how you’ve been shaped by your experiences, and the unique attributes you’ll bring to the college’s learning community.

Your recommendation letters should share similar insights from someone else’s perspective. Ask teachers who know you well and give them plenty of time (three to four weeks) to write a thoughtful reflection on their experiences with you in the classroom. Consider teachers who can speak to your growth as a student, your contributions to the class experience, or your resolve overcoming academic challenges.

Finally, a word about standardized testing. Given the pandemic many colleges have become test optional, and many others have been test optional for years.  You will want to check the application requirements for each school to which you plan to apply to ensure that you have satisfied all of their requirements.

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