Q.My child is entering her senior year of high school, and obviously college visits are out. How can parents support the totally virtual college search?

A.This is a question close to my heart because I have a daughter who’s a rising senior, too. My advice comes from two perspectives: parent and dean of admission. 

My first thought is one couched in optimism. Parents, we can do this! Yet, I don’t want to overlook the fact that our new seniors face challenges greater than even last year’s class. There will be no live college fairs. No campus visits. No staying overnight in a friend’s dorm room. 

I see three key disruptors our new seniors are facing because of the way the pandemic interrupted their junior year.


  • Remote learning. The shift to online learning in most high schools hit juniors at a vulnerable time. For some, it was the last full semester before they apply to college. It presented great challenges for those whose learning styles aren’t compatible with online classes. Some may not have had reliable internet access or a quiet place to concentrate on class work. One point to remember: The Common Application, used by nearly 900 colleges, will provide an opportunity for applicants to write about their remote learning experiences, if they wish.
  • Evaluation. When education shifted to remote in March, many high schools opted for pass/fail or satisfactory/unsatisfactory grading. Some will stay with that system this fall, particularly if online learning is the norm for all or part of the coming year. Many high school students believe grades and rank help define them for colleges admission. But know that colleges will discern these students through recommendations, writing, and other means to make good admission judgments. We won’t penalize students for having “pass” on their transcripts.
  • Standardized testing. Many colleges have been test-optional for years. Even more are waiving the SAT and ACT now and for the future. The fact that such testing was cancelled last spring may not be a factor in your student’s admission to college. If your student is interested in a school that hasn’t waived tests, ask how heavily they weigh test scores in its process.

How should your rising seniors approach the search this fall? COVID has actually created some opportunities. 

  • Use virtual visits. Nearly all colleges have met the demand to host a version of virtual visits for prospective students. So your new senior can actually visit more campuses than they might have with inperson visits. Take advantage of those. 
  • Divein for information. Seniors should hang out on college websites and YouTube channels. Since campus visits are out, schools are sharing a wealth of information on-line. Join college mailing lists. We can’t communicate with your student if we don’t know who they are. If the school has an admission representative dedicated to your geographical area, contact that person directly. 
  • Don’t be shy. Ask for what you need. If your student wants to connect with current students at a potential school, ask to get connected. If they want to connect with a faculty member, ask. 

In short, you and your new senior will work to achieve the same result as previous college applicants – the best college fit. The means may be a little different, but the end should look the same. 

Watch Dean Dixon discuss this information in greater detail in this video.   


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