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A Guide to Navigating COVID-19 for Parents of College-Bound Teenagers

A Guide to Navigating COVID-19 for Parents of College-Bound Teenagers

A Guide to Navigating COVID-19 for Parents of College-Bound Teenagers 1000 715 Theo Wolf

At the time of writing this post, coronavirus (COVID-19) has hit East Asia hard and is now accelerating rapidly across Europe, the US, and other countries. Colleges have moved classes online, and K-12 schools are starting to follow. Regardless of the situation, students and their families are facing a huge amount of uncertainty. In this post, we’ll try to address some of the biggest concerns our students (most teenagers) and families have right now relating to their education, extracurriculars and college admissions.

If my school doesn’t reopen, then what will I do?  How will it impact my learning and my college admissions chances?
Students all around the world are grappling with this question, so know that you’re not alone. Most schools in Asia have already reopened at this point, so we can look to them as a model of how American (and other) schools will likely act. Asian schools mostly chose one of two options:

  1. Switching over to online learning
  2. Closing down and extending school into the summer

Most schools in America seem to be gravitating toward option 1. However, for schools that lack the infrastructure for online learning, this is going to be an adjustment. There may be a lag in terms of educational quality, since these schools typically have never done online learning before. Students will have to take new levels of ownership over their own learning (particularly when it comes to planning for standardized tests like AP or IB exams).

For schools that choose option 2, students are going to struggle to be able to find summer plans that fit their disrupted schedules. We’ll give some recommendations on how best to approach that time later in this post.

In terms of college admissions chances, effectively all students (except home schooled and online students) are dealing with these same kinds of massive shifts, so college admissions officers will be understanding. However, this event will clearly separate students who have initiative in their own learning from students who don’t. This is a great opportunity to have some agency and take control of your own learning process.

What is happening with standardized tests?
The March SAT and April ACT have both been postponed, and we’ll see what happens with the May tests. For anyone who was counting on these spring test dates, don’t fret yet: it looks like a new crop will be added. CollegeBoard and ACT have both issued statements on the subject, pledging to add more test dates and to do everything they can to help students affected by these changes.

There is a high probability that the virus will die down over the summer so we’re recommending our rising juniors to sign up for any test dates available or that open up over the summer. Sign up for our newsletter to receive timely updates on new test dates.

What about AP Exams?
Hopefully the virus will have subsided enough for students to take AP exams in May; however, there is now a high probability that it won’t be possible, so CollegeBoard announced that they will be administering the exams online to students at-home. They’ll announce the timing of those exams on Friday, April 3rd. If we had to guess, we’d say that they’re most likely to move test dates back until later in the summer.

What about IB assessments?
The International Baccalaureate has cancelled the May IB exams! We have heard reports that some schools will still be holding their own mock examinations though.

Should I use this time to prepare for the SAT/ACT?
Yes. For many students we recommend taking advantage of this unexpected free time, in part, to study for any standardized tests that you need to take. It’s something you’ll need to do and it’s easy to do from anywhere. If you are already doing an in-person test prep class or tutor, then we recommend you transition to their online option immediately. We have a post that, though a couple years old, still gives some good advice about how to self-study for the ACT. Many of the tips apply to the SAT as well. There are more online resources available than ever for these tests. You just have to know where to look. Collegeboard has a good resource page with online study tools for the SAT, including Khan Academy and a daily practice app. ACT meanwhile has its own ACT Academy as well as other free materials on its website.

If you feel like you need other people to study with, consider starting an online study group with friends. Or, if you absolutely feel like you need an instructor, you could hire a remote tutor from a company like Applerouth or take an online course from a place like PrepScholar. The Spike Lab does not offer test prep tutoring but we have a list of very high quality SAT/ACT tutors and tutoring companies so contact us to request that list if you’d like.

What should I do about my extracurriculars now that they’re cancelled or postponed indefinitely?
This is a common refrain among students right now. The remaining games of the season or the spring play or the big end-of-year concert have been canceled. That was supposed to be your big chance to do something awesome, now what?

The best approach here is to take the same approach as when you lose an election or have another major setback: look for new opportunities, and if none are available, create them yourself. So what if the play was canceled: follow Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lead and start creating online videos to raise money for out-of-work actors. So what if your sports season ended early? Follow Zion Williamson’s lead and raise money for the temporary employees who are suddenly without paychecks.

Most students are in the exact same situation as you so don’t worry about “falling behind” or this hurting your college chances. It’s actually an opportunity! What matters right now is that you take initiative and respond to the new reality faster than others. Find a way to continue pursuing your interests and activities if you love them. If you’re an actor, then put on a one-person play. There are plenty to choose from. If you’re a team athlete expected to get recruited, then pretend you’re back in the off-season and start a new training regime before others. If you were organizing a Model UN conference, then get started with the planning of the online version of that conference. If you just can’t do your passion from home and there is no good way to adjust, then find something else to do that’s meaningful to you and fits these new times. There are a lot of people hurting right now. Just because you don’t have your usual formal system to rely on for your extracurriculars doesn’t mean you can’t do something awesome and impactful during this time.

That’s why our number one recommendation for how to spend this time is to use it to launch a Spike.
Learn more about what we mean by Spike here. It’s an ideal time for several reasons:

  1. Mental Bandwidth. Identifying and then launching a Spike takes time and focus, both of which are resources you should have in abundance at the moment.
  2. Colleges Will Notice. You’re missing out on extracurriculars right now and there’s a very real possibility that you will lose some of your summer break. You will want to have done something meaningful with this time to make up for it. Colleges care about how you make use of your free time (which is why they look at things like extracurriculars in the first place). If you show that you took advantage of this disruption to do something meaningful, it can show a lot of initiative and drive, two qualities top colleges value.
  3. With Crisis Comes Opportunity. Great Spikes often involve solving problems, and right now there are major problems that need solving. Look at your community and some of the problems that afflict it: mask shortages, cabin fever, fear, or even the spread of germs itself. Look for small, solvable problems and see what you can do to address them. Give music lessons over video chat. Build a non-profit doing in-home caretaking for the children of health workers. Start an online mask drive for elderly nursing homes. There are so many challenges waiting to be solved right now: find one you care about and do something about it.

When there’s a lot of uncertainty, it’s only natural for people to gravitate toward inactivity. You’re unsure of what’s going to happen, so you wait and see. But the true remedy for uncertainty is proactivity: to take control and do what you can to move your life forward despite the unpredictability.

No one currently knows how long this pandemic-induced quarantine will last, but in the meantime, the best you can do is take advantage of the sudden break to develop something you care about. We have students using this as an opportunity to launch research projects on urban design from their bedrooms or start data consultancies for non-profits in developing areas. So find something that excites you (if you don’t know where to begin, start here) and dive in!

(For international students) Is it still a good idea to go to college in the US?
Last week most US colleges (and boarding schools) moved classes online and told students to go home. Simultaneously unprecedented new travel bans went into effect around the world restricting travel to contain the virus. People are scared and some are angry so xenophobia, especially toward Chinese, is at all times highs. As such, it’s normal for international high school students who were planning on attending US colleges to have second thoughts or new concerns.

No one knows what will happen so we can’t say for sure what’s the best course of action, but right now our advice is the same that financial advisors are giving their clients right now: don’t let fear and emotions take you off your long-term strategy. In other words, sit tight and don’t throw out your plan to go to US colleges just yet. In a few months, things will settle down and you can make a more informed decision. It is likely that the financial crisis and travel restrictions will reduce overall international college applications to US colleges, but we believe that will only help your admissions chances. Low and mid-tier US colleges rely on full-tuition paying international students and are likely to have major financial problems if enrollments decline this Fall. Meanwhile, at top-tier US colleges, you might have some less competition from other international students.

Travel bans are expected to be lifted as soon as the COVID-19 infection rates are back under control. So once the pandemic passes, access to the US is unlikely to be a problem.

Nationalism and xenophobia was on the rise before this crisis and are both at new heights. For example, just today President Trump irresponsibly called COVID-19 the “China-virus” which is indicative of growing resentment and scapegoating in the US that can arise in times of panic without the proper moral leadership. However as the panic and uncertainty subside, it’s possible that this crisis could swing American politics to propel Biden to win the presidency this November. In the medium to long run, that would bring back the type of open, global and tolerant policies that spurred record level growth in international education during the Obama presidency. However it’s still too early to know for sure so sign up to our newsletter here to stay tuned for more information as it comes out.

What else should I do with my newfound time?
I’d recommend checking out this post on last-minute summer plans as well as this post about how to approach winter breaks for suggestions, since this break does share much in common with other school breaks. You might especially consider taking some online classes on platforms like Coursera, EdX, or Udemy to further develop your academic interests. You’d be amazed what you can do with a few hours free and the additional mental energy that you’re not using in school.

It’s easy to look at this situation as a huge disruption, but this won’t be the last time you face a major disruption in your life. Use this as an opportunity to learn how to approach a difficult and uncertain situation and come out on top.

If you have questions specific to your situation or just want to talk with someone about some of your ideas for how to best spend your time now, then click here to schedule a free consultation with us.