High school students considering college have heard of application season. The Common Application, an undergraduate college admission application that can be used to apply to more than 800 member colleges and universities, started accepting applications in August.

Whether they have applied or are still getting their bearings, Rabbi Jeremy Bruce, principal of Fuchs Mizrachi School’s Stark High School in Beachwood, and Tracy Stockard, director of college counseling at Gilmour Academy in Gates Mills, said college hopefuls need to be aware of a few things.

Specifically in the 2020-21 application period, students should focus on how the COVID-19 pandemic could affect their application experience. Stockard said the biggest change lies in testing.

“First off, you need to find out if a college is test-optional and if you’re a good candidate to apply for that,” she explained. “Talk to the college and talk to your college counselor for insight. You also need to find out what method a college will use to consider your test scores if you decide to submit them. Some will accept them off of your application while others want them straight from the testing agency.”

Bruce said, “Test optional applications allow students to reach schools they might have not tried for in past applications, so that also allows students to apply and present themselves not just solely based on standardized testing.”

Whether or not a school is requiring test scores, students should also allow themselves enough time to send in information.

“Students should really be starting the college application process now, especially if they are interested in early action or early decision as those deadlines are fast approaching,” Stockard said. “If, however, you are not quite ready to apply that is perfectly fine too. You can at least start preparing by creating a Common Application account or setting up admissions applications on college websites that use their college application. Finally, be sure to submit your application well before the stated deadline.”

At Gilmour Academy, students carefully review their senior schedule and transcripts before even applying to a college, Stockard noted.

“We work with them on college essay writing and review each of their applications for corrections and suggestions before submission,” she said. “This can be a lengthy process so we get them in our office early in the fall to start this process. During the pandemic, we have spent more time helping students answer the new COVID-19 question in how the pandemic has impacted them personally.”

For Stark High School students, the college application discussion starts their junior year, working on their resumes from then onward. Bruce said some conversations begin earlier than that, introducing them to the idea of college, applications and standardized testing.

“We have a career and college program in their junior year that allows them to understand what a resume, application and essay may look like, and then we have them go into the community and have three weeks of work experience, which can be very impactful at that age and time of their application journey,” he said. “That sort of experience is impactful and allows students to prepare for a strong college application.”

Students also have access to a dedicated college counselor, Bruce said.

“We’re very hands-on when it comes to guiding students through the application process,” he stated. “We have small classes and we still have a dedicated counselor. So, students get a significantly high level of support as they go through the application process. This is a real advantage to them throughout junior and senior year.”

But should a student not know where during the application process, Bruce and Stockard had some guidance.

“Students should create a Common Application account, have a copy of their transcript in hand and jot down all of the work, volunteer and extracurricular activities they have participated in during high school,” Stockard said. “With these three times ready to go, a great deal of the college application can be completed. Sometimes just sitting down to start an application is a great motivator for applying to college.”

Bruce said, “Essentially, just go somewhere or apply somewhere you’re excited about and want to be at. Once you’ve done that, make sure it supports your goals.”

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