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Home / News / Education / March College Search Guide: The road to college

March College Search Guide: The road to college

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By May S. Ruiz

Two years into the pandemic, infection cases are finally decreasing; but death rates remain high. On February 15, several states, counties, and cities around the country eased or ended indoor mask mandates; last week, the L.A. Unified School District dropped the outdoor mask requirement. There’s speculation that California schools will no longer be requiring their students to wear masks on campus sometime this month.         

However, some counties in California – where infection cases still cause worry – are still imposing it. Many private schools and privately-owned establishments are also choosing to go their own way, practicing safety measures they deem necessary to ensure their employees’ and the public’s health and well-being. And, as usual, the seemingly arbitrary rules are creating dissent. But wherever your beliefs lie on this ongoing debate, I hope you are doing your utmost to keep safe and healthy.

If your children are attending in-person classes full-time, you must be so relieved after more than a year of having to home-school them. As we all know, though, the long-term remote learning resulted in unprecedented learning loss and widened the achievement gap. Students are playing catch-up on their schoolwork.

Fortunately, there are several tutoring services available if they require help. Find one which offers options that fit your children’s specific need and your family’s budget. A company called Mundo Academy provides excellent tutoring services in the Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley area. Likewise, some high school and college students have created free tutoring services and learning platforms to help children during the coronavirus pandemic. Two of these organizations include Sailors Learning and Wave Learning Festival.                     

Anxiety and depression have been on the rise among children and adults during the pandemic. Please don’t ignore your and your children’s mental health; reach out for assistance when you or your family members feel overwhelmed. The CDC has put together a resource kit for parents – divided by age group – to help ensure their children’s well-being. The site also has links to other resources that cover various concerns. Another CDC website is dedicated to helping parents manage stress during the coronavirus pandemic. 

In spite of the pandemic, the University of California broke records for first-year applications for the second consecutive year, according to data it recently released. Additionally, this past admissions cycle drew the largest and most diverse pool of applicants. While this is great news, it also means that it has become even more competitive to get in. And, as more colleges and universities join in scrapping standardized tests, your children need to be prepared to face ever greater challenges.     

Princeton University | Courtesy Photo

FRESHMAN:

Your children should have all their grades on track. They need to concentrate on maintaining good study habits now to be better equipped to handle the rigors of the workload in the coming years. If they haven’t been reading much, they should seriously consider taking up reading as a hobby during spring break to help them increase their vocabulary – it will come in handy when they write all the supplemental essays many universities require.   

It’s also a good time for your children to consult their class dean regarding summer activities – academic enrichment programs, volunteer work, or part-time employment. College admissions officers are looking for students who explored their passions while getting good grades.

Admissions officers will not expect your children to have extra-curricular activities during the  coronavirus pandemic. However, they will be interested to know how students spent their time outside of remote learning. Encourage your children to find volunteer work and community service activities.             

SOPHOMORE:

Tenth graders who are taking AP courses need to register for the AP exams administered in May.  While there is a slew of small independent tutoring schools offering courses to prepare for the AP tests, some children do not need to take on this additional burden on their already busy schedules. Your children have enough on their plate with the intensive homework associated with an advanced placement course. That said, your kids would still have to show competence on the AP exams as all scores are submitted to the College Board; all the colleges to which your children apply will see the AP scores.

JUNIOR:

Spring break is usually the time when juniors visit various campuses. Many schools organize tours for their students and college counselors provide a prepared college visit checklist with a page or several pages allotted for each college or university. They can also write their overall impressions which they can consult when they create their college list.    

If in-person tours aren’t available at the college or university you want to visit, make sure you and your children do a virtual tour or a webinar. Many universities offer a live virtual tour where someone takes you around the campus on FaceTime or Zoom. There’s usually an admissions officer on hand to answer questions. And, as in pre-pandemic years, you and your children need to make an appointment to attend the tour.        

Even when tours are conducted virtually, you can still ask some of the questions you normally would during an in-person visit. Here are a few examples: What is the advising system for freshmen? Are there opportunities for independent/study abroad? Is there guaranteed housing for four years? What are the dining options? What safety measures and precautions are offered by the school during the pandemic?

Especially during the pandemic, it’s advisable to arrange to speak with a current student about campus life. Here are some questions to ask: Do students stay on campus or do they leave on weekends? Are students practicing healthy campus lifestyles, like limiting parties? Even before the pandemic, these parties led to excessive drinking and wild behavior; these gatherings could be super spreaders of the current coronavirus variant.        

One major concern for parents and children should be security on campus (Can outsiders gain access to the library, the fitness center or student union? Are there video cameras around the school periphery?). Of course, the most serious threat to students’ well-being may actually be within the confines of the institution. This topic has become part of the national conversation   and some universities are addressing the topic upfront. I, personally, would want to know if officials have safeguards in place to prevent such crime from occurring. Do administrators disclose information about it or do they hide and blur the facts? What consequences does the school impose on perpetrators?

Photo by Priscilla du Preez for Unsplash

SENIOR:

You and your children should research all scholarships and grants available to them. Many colleges offer merit scholarships to applicants with excellent academic records to motivate them to matriculate. The package usually includes the full cost of tuition and fees and may also cover room and board.

Universities also extend need-based grants to applicants who demonstrate a financial hardship. These reduce the cost of a college education and do not need to be repaid. Your children should complete the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid. Other schools may also require a college-specific financial aid application.

Some useful websites to help you get started in your research include: CollegeXpress; FastwebNational Merit Scholarship Corporation; Scholarships.com; Scholarships360; and Student Aid on the Web.

As I expounded on last month, some colleges will be sending out decision letters sometime in March or April. Your children should keep their wits about them as they await word from the colleges they applied to. 

After the marathon they finished, your children may be quite restless and anxious to know if they have been accepted to their school of choice. Remind them to use this quiet time productively by keeping their focus on academics and their grades. They should still engage in other worthwhile activities like arts. 

Tell your children that they may be getting letters of rejection from some schools. While you might be more disappointed than your son or daughter, avoid showing it as that sends the wrong message. Not being accepted to their first choice isn’t the end of the world. In fact, while it may not seem like it at first, that rejection usually turns out to be a blessing in disguise – in most cases, they end up in the school that is the right fit for them.                  

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