Students, and their parents, are worried about how they will be evaluated by college admissions teams this year. When college-bound students can’t take the SAT or ACT because test dates have been cancelled due to coronavirus safety concerns and most students received pass/no pass grades last semester, how will colleges select qualified students for admission? Admissions officers claim that they are using a holistic approach to evaluating each application. But what does that mean?
Colleges consider GPA and the types of courses that the high school offers to be valuable elements because they can determine how the student ranks within their classes. In other words, they’ll know if the student may have been intimidated by honors, AP or IB courses because they took the easier path. But because of the chaos that took place last spring and even this fall, many students have changed direction to manage family and personal issues.
AP exams taken in May 2020 were considerably easier than previous years because the College Board restructured the test to be shorter and cover less content. How can that be fair when looking at the AP test scores from 2019? Then with technical difficulties on the actual exam days, many students didn’t get credit for AP exams because of they couldn’t submit their tests online.
The SAT and ACT exams have been cancelled in many areas from March to last weekend. Many juniors who expected to take the SAT or ACT in May-September have not been able to find testing centers. As a result, most colleges have offered a test-optional or test-blind policy for this year’s applicants.
Almost all sports and clubs have been cancelled since spring, upsetting athletes and active students from showing their best by winning games and reaching their goals.
So how does a student stand out when grades don’t reflect real aptitude, AP exams were easier, most students didn’t get to take the SAT/ACT, and extracurricular activities came to a screeching halt last year and haven’t started up for the new school year? Projects. They do individual projects that show their personal interests, tenacity, and innovation, and drive.
Students who do these projects demonstrate all of the qualities that colleges are looking for in their incoming classes. They want students who find their passions and pursue them with determination. Students don’t need to cure cancer or solve climate change, but they need to do something that supports their beliefs. I’ve written Beat the College Admissions Game with ProjectMerit to help students do projects. By brainstorming, researching, and organizing a plan to complete the project before 12th grade, students will demonstrate that they have the character, brilliance, and gumption to be successful at the best colleges.
But be careful not to do a project just to impress college admissions officers. With the void in GPAs, SAT/ACT scores, AP scores, and extracurricular activities, students, and their parents, are rushing to start projects for all the wrong reasons. College admissions officers are savvy to students who make false claims (think Varsity Blues), have parents or tutors do their projects, or simply do the bare minimum so they can write their personal statements about something. I work with hundreds of students and guide them so they find their passions and create projects that they’re proud of. That’s what it takes to make a college application stand out amidst the chaos of 2020. Do a project because you believe in it, and then, so will the college admissions officers!