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Creating a New College Prep Routine During COVID-19

A woman working in front of a laptop, surrounded by papers, colored pens, and an external hard-drive.

Planning, generally speaking, is a good idea. If you have a big goal in mind, it can help you both mentally and logistically to consider the individual steps that will get you from here to there. Spark Admissions counselors help students plan for a particular big goal: getting into a great college.

Unfortunately, the social disruptions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic have affected even our super-planning skills. After all, the normal routine that students should pursue to get the most out of high school and to craft rich, persuasive applications has been shredded by COVID-19. Get good grades, expand your extracurricular profile, gain summer research experience, visit schools, serve the needy in your community—how can you do any of that now?

If you’re interested in learning more about the latest effects that coronavirus is having on college admissions, you can find that elsewhere on our site. Here, instead, we’re putting our planning powers to work and suggesting some ways to maintain your college prep routine during COVID-19.

Freshmen and Sophomores: Start Preparing and Stay Engaged

To start, underclassmen should take a deep breath and remind themselves that they will have plenty of high school experiences to present to colleges that will not be affected by coronavirus. Nevertheless, here are some ideas to create a new routine that will help you down the road:

Figure Out Your Area of Academic Interest

Applying to colleges probably seems a long way off, but in just a year or two you’re going to be starting your applications. And when you do, you’re going to need to tell them what major you intend to study. While you won’t necessarily be bound by this decision once you actually get to campus, admissions officers use your choice to evaluate your overall readiness and fit for their campus.

So, what does that mean for your COVID-19 schedule? Start thinking about that major! What has been your favorite subject so far? What do your parents and teachers think might be a good choice for you in college? Read some articles or even books on the topic. Take a free course through Coursera or EdX, or join in citizen research through Zooniverse or the National Archives. Set aside an hour or so each day to learn more about what you want to study.

COVID-19 may mean you’re stuck in your home, but through online resources, you are not lacking in ways to learn more. If you can come to a decision about your future major, you’ll be in an excellent position to delve further into that field of study in the post-coronavirus world.

Start Researching Summer Programs for Next Year

Whatever you were planning to do this summer, it probably fell victim to COVID-19, right? As disappointing as that is, however, it’s a good reason to think about what you might want to do once the coronavirus crisis has passed (which we hope will be sooner rather than later!).

In addition to rethinking what you might do for this summer, consider looking ahead to next summer. Some of the most competitive programs have applications due as early as January or even December, so finding one you’re excited about early can give you a real leg up in the application process for some cool and competitive opportunities.

Similarly, if you’re reading widely in your area of interest while stuck at home, you’ll be better able to apply for research internships next summer—another reason to stay engaged!

Stay Connected with School Clubs

While being separated from your friends and peers is one of the hardest parts of the coronavirus lockdown, that distance also presents an opportunity, especially for first-year students. If you’re like many freshmen, you may have dabbled in a few different clubs and activities this year, from sports to science club, without committing to anything in particular.

Now that COVID-19 is keeping you at home, you have an opportunity to ask yourself: which activities do you truly miss? Is there one you miss most of all? Having the space to think about where to put your energy may actually help you. After all, when it comes to applying to college, you’re going to want to show commitment to a few significant activities. Why not decide which ones those are now?

Furthermore, if you’re particularly excited about a club, consider doing some legwork to keep it functioning during this strange time. If you can organize meetings over video chat or use this time to think about plans for next year, you’ll position yourself as a club leader. In addition to being a fulfilling and worthwhile experience, leadership is also something colleges love!

Juniors: Don’t Freak Out!

Really, that’s good advice for everyone. But if you’re a high school junior looking at the looming application cycle next year, you may be feeling anxious. And that’s OK! It’s a bit scary in the best of times, and this sure isn’t that. However, you should take a deep breath and stay focused. There’s a lot you can still do to prepare for college, even with COVID-19 keeping us at home.

Find an Alternative Summer Plan

First things first: if your summer plan was disrupted by coronavirus, it’s important that you find something else to do! Ideally, your program or internship is offering a remote option, meaning you can stay the course. But if not, you don’t want to have a blank summer. Your back-up plan may not be as exciting as your original one but trust us: it’s better than nothing.

Similarly, if your original plan has been scaled back in time or rigor or you’re gaining back time by not traveling or living somewhere else, you might consider adding some things to fill the gaps. Could you take an online course somewhere? What about expanding your volunteering online? Your college will want to see how you kept yourself busy over the summer.

Keep Studying for the SAT or ACT

We know, it’s not what you’d most prefer to be doing right now. However, even as more and more colleges announce that they will not require students to submit standardized tests as part of their applications next year, it’s also true that many schools will still want to see them. Furthermore, even some of the places that are temporarily test-optional would still be happy to see a good score.

So, if you haven’t reached your SAT score goal yet, it’s important to keep up your studying and preparation while also paying close attention to future test and registration dates. Although COVID-19 has severely impacted the standardized testing landscape, these tests aren’t dead yet. An excellent score will still be a big asset to your application at most schools.

Start Working on Your Applications

While it may seem like application deadlines are eons away, the truth is that we’re less than six months from the earliest due dates, including the common Early Decision deadline of November 1. While there have been rumors about shifts to these dates, you definitely shouldn’t bank on colleges pushing their deadlines back as a result of COVID-19. Plan for the deadlines that exist now!

Of course, you won’t write the entire application in the next few weeks. After all, you’ll have experiences over the summer and next fall that you’ll want to include. Nevertheless, this is a great time to start thinking about your Common App essay or putting together your resume. Making headway on some things now will give you more time and breathing room later in the process.

Get Ready for the Fall

Whatever happens with the coronavirus, school will resume one way or another in the fall. It might be online, it might be part-time, or it might be completely back to normal. Regardless, it’s your last chance to impress colleges, so be ready to make the most of it.

If you know you’re gearing up for a lot of rigorous courses, for instance, you might consider supplementing your learning with some online resources. If you’re going to be in a leadership position in a club or team, start thinking now about what you’d like to accomplish. The more you can prepare for now, the less pressure you’ll be under when the fall arrives.

Final Thoughts

Staying mentally and physically healthy during this time is crucial. As we’ve written previously, it’s great to stay involved, but with every student out there in pretty much the same boat, colleges are sympathetic to the disruptions caused by COVID-19. Whatever you do to reorient your college prep routine, make sure it’s not at the expense of your mental or physical health.

So, do your best, but remember to take care of yourself. As you set aside a couple hours a day for the things on this list, make sure to create space for physical activity, mindfulness, and relaxation. There’s still plenty of time—we promise!

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