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The Road to College During COVID-19: Six Tips for Success

This year, the class of 2020 faced challenges on their journey to college that their predecessors at KIPP Newark Collegiate Academy never encountered: the effects of a global pandemic. Between shrinking financial aid, travel barriers, and job loss, many students changed or rethought their plans for college or career, with the support of their KIPP Through College (KTC) advisors.

While there is still uncertainty about the challenges the Class of 2021 will face as they apply to college this year our KTC team is prepared to help students face the unpredictable. Here is some advice from KTC counselors to seniors as they contemplate their options for next year:

  1. The early bird gets the worm. All of our counselors said that students seeking college admissions this year will benefit from a proactive approach—particularly when it comes to financial aid and filing for FAFSA . “Families should do their best to fill out the FAFSA and get their paperwork in order as soon as possible this year,” said KTC counselor Aixa Carmona. She added that families should take advantage of online tools like the FAFSA4caster to understand their options for paying for college. The same holds true for making decisions about the type of application a student submits.


    “We don’t have time to say ‘let’s just see’ when it comes to college options and decisions around whether to apply Early Decision or Early Action” said college counselor Jackie Broomfield. “The landscape this year will benefit students who really evaluate their options early. If you’re confident that your top-choice schools can also meet your financial need, then applying EA/ED makes sense—as qualifying students will likely be first in line for financial aid,” she added.

  2. Virtual visits matter: According to Carmona, “Before COVID-19, many schools offered students fly-ins for tours and interviews, but sometimes they were more exclusive. Now that these visits are virtual, they’re opening them up to more students. These tours are often led by a current student, which makes them more personal.”

  3. Get to know your admissions counselor. Counselors say students have new opportunities to stand out through Zoom interviews and meetings with admissions counselors. College counselor Natasha M. Stone says that getting to know your admission representative matters more now than ever. “If you have a virtual session with the admission rep, be sure to ask them good questions about their school—even if you may already know the answer to it! Don’t be afraid to ask for mailing addresses to send personalized thank you cards after interviews. You can even call Financial Aid offices to learn more about different scholarship opportunities,” said Stone.

  4. It’s about more than a score. With many schools going test-optional, our college counselors agree that it’s a good time for students to put together a thoughtful application that stands out from the competition. Counselors say this can be accomplished through a thoughtful college essay and through highlighting meaningful experiences. Stone encourages students to find opportunities to safely perform community service, when possible. Carmona suggests students can write about their personal experiences during COVID-19 and how that impacted the person they’re becoming—but this shouldn’t limit their topics for an essay. “If they’ve been creative or explored a new interest since March, they could write about that experience—but we don’t want them to feel like COVID-19 has to define their whole high school experience either.”

  5. Use your KTC resources. Stone says students there’s one upside to meeting with students’ virtually via Zoom: “We have the chance to be even more focused on the college search. When we meet with students, they aren’t getting distracted by anything else going on in our room—plus it gives them the opportunity to have ownership over the process a little more. I can screen share with them easily to help them walk through certain parts of the application, but they have to take some of those key steps themselves.” She emphasized the importance of students using tools provided by KTC—like the virtual organizer spreadsheet platform that allows applicants to view their correctly weighted GPA, all prospective colleges, lists of KIPP partner schools, and many other tools to keep them on track with the college application process.

  6. Balance your list. Developing a balanced list of colleges that includes a reach, a match, and good bet for acceptance are important for students every year—but this year it’s even more important, says Broomfield. “I’ve been telling students to reach out early and often to colleges to get a clear picture of what their financial aid might look like—and encouraging students to consider in-state options as well. We don’t know what might happen in the future right now with COVID-19, so making sure your list includes some in-state options isn’t a bad idea. A balanced list is a rock amidst a lot of uncertainty.”  

As we navigate the uncertainty of COVID-19, our college counselors are here to help students ensure they have what they need to be successful in their journey to and through college. 

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