Taking college and career planning one step at a time has always been a good idea. Now, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the only option. New announcements and unprecedented changes to core elements of college admissions are taking place daily. It’s understandable that you can feel thrown off course by the uncertainty, and what feels like chasing moving goal posts. You have lots of questions with no easy answers.
- How will a “Pass” grade be viewed by colleges?
- How will colleges know that I am a strong, serious student without grades this semester to prove it?
- Will I be able to take the SAT or ACT? Should I still prepare for the test? Will it be required at the schools I want to apply to? What does test optional actually mean for me?
- How can I tell the difference between two colleges when their websites look and sound the same? Will I be able to visit any campuses this year?
No wonder our heads are spinning. Making this moment even more challenging is the fact that normal daily routines are hard to come by and social patterns we crave are not in the cards for now.
But what if we flip the paradigm and see change as an opportunity?
Sometimes all it takes is some baby steps and a few good strategies. I recommend the three Rs: reflection, research, and relationships.
Engage in Reflection
You now have more opportunities to be reflective and explore your character and abilities. Maybe you haven’t had the chance to practice reflection and you’re not sure how to do it on your own. Consider starting a journal. Not sure what to write about? How about asking yourself:
What kinds of things from my pre-coronavirus, pre-stay-at-home life can I not wait to get back to?
What surprises me about what I don’t miss at all? Why is that?
What new activities, hobbies, or thoughts am I enjoying? Why?
Acts of self-discovery, and identifying what you need and want, is at the heart of an effective and exciting college planning process. With social distancing and staying home, you probably have the gift of more time. This is a chance to get to know yourself better and use your newfound awareness to help you make one of the biggest decisions of your life: why and where do I want to go to college?
Conduct Targeted Research
Use what you learn about yourself through reflection and career assessments to learn more about the world of work and how it relates to what you are passionate about or what problems you would like to solve. (Ask me about my favorite career planning resources.)
In the absence of college tours, there has been an explosion of online tools and resources that make college research during COVID-19 very accessible. But, the sheer number of options can be overwhelming. That’s why I recommend doing research on a limited number of schools on a schedule (ex. 2 schools each week, at regularly scheduled intervals) while focusing your research on three priority topics of your choice to start (ex. academic coursework, desired extracurricular activities, and location).
Social distancing doesn’t mean we can’t be social; in fact, this is a good time for you to be very intentional about cultivating relationships. Take the initiative to seek out peers, teachers, and family friends who can help you grow your understanding of your college opportunities and career interests. Here are a few ideas:
- Ask current college students what they wish they knew before deciding on their college and a major.
- Make connections to family friends who work in jobs that sound fun to you.
- Find ways to engage your teachers in the new virtual classroom; take advantage of office hours, ask questions, and share something you find interesting or ask them about their educational path.
Mini-steps put together become big steps, and in the process you will move yourself forward with college and career planning while strengthening your own self-efficacy. No doubt you’ll find that by putting your focus on the things you can control, it’s easier to let go of the college admissions mania and pave your own unique, successful path.