How to Develop US College Admissions Portfolio During Coronavirus

The novel Coronavirus is taking the world by storm, and college campuses are no different. Recently we had news that the President of Harvard had tested positive for Covid-19, admissions tests like the SAT and ACT moved to make-up tests and then cancellations up ‘til May, and universities like MIT have relaxed their SAT Subject Test requirements. However, institutions are doing their best to keep things moving as normal – the College Board is rolling out free AP resources, campuses are offering virtual tours, collecting international tuition fees remains important, and premier Ivy Leagues like Princeton are very clear that they will be evaluating students, local and international, just the same.

What Do Universities Expect?


Harvard too issued a special message to highlight what changes and just how much stays the same. “We will continue to look at the whole person as we consider applications next year – as always.” In terms of what that means, and how to achieve it amidst the limitations of Covid-19 and social distancing, they had this to say: “Accomplishments in and out of the classroom during the high school years – including community involvement, employment, and help given to your family – will all be considered. Students who find themselves limited in the activities they can pursue due to the current coronavirus outbreak will not be disadvantaged as a result.” I think this contains some great advice we should try to unpack.

It’s reasonable to assume that if you’re applying to a premier institution you will be assessed holistically, not just through your grades. Even with Covid-19, their challenge of picking the worthiest candidates out of the many who are qualified remains. What’s different is that you might have to show this through an online interview, rather than in-person, and maybe your Common App and Supplemental Essays have even more weight on them now. So, while social distancing and other limitations have been and will continue to affect students globally, let’s not take that sitting down. Universities want to see how you stood up, how you stand out.

Don’t Forget What You Already Have


Firstly, though you are undoubtedly frustrated at the current obstructions to your plans for study, test-taking, co-curricular activities, community volunteering – or hobbies like playing with a band and creative writing circles – remind yourself of the things you have accomplished up until now. This pandemic cannot take that away from you. Reacquaint yourself with your skills and achievements, so that you can look to the next step, making the most of them now that everything has changed.

Show Them What You Can Do Under Pressure


Some doors may have closed, but universities will appreciate your thinking creatively about how to address the situation. Normally our community volunteering is all about helping people face-to-face, but there are novel solutions. Groups like Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK are using digital communication to take care of the vulnerable in their locality and the One Letter, One Smile initiative in Belgium and France lets young people safely reach out to the elderly and isolated, and Miami residents have arranged safely delivering groceries for the elderly. Get inventive, and leverage the digital technologies that younger people typically have a head-start in to see how you can help.

Keep It Simple


No-one is saying that you have to revolutionize the digital space to make an impact! It stands out to me that Harvard included family. I think most of us have older family members or neighbours we are concerned about. Maybe in our busy school lives we haven’t been giving them as much attention. Right now, giving them our best probably means more than ever. Whether it’s helping out at home, reconnecting over a call or Zoom, teaching your grandparents to use digital delivery, that has all taken on a new significance. And even if your school is shut, that homework club you helped out at might need the help (remote help!) to keep doing the best for your peers and juniors.

Remember the Basics


Don’t forget that you are applying to college for an education. I never tire of the phrase from T H White’s Merlin “The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. […] Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the only thing for you. Look what a lot of things there are to learn.” Whether it’s the pile of books you meant to get around to, a Duolingo course or that Coursera certificate you’ve been meaning to take, there’s no time like the present. Show your future college that you have the independent commitment to your own educational flourishing. Prove to them that you really will make the most of the opportunities they can afford you.

Final Thoughts


There can be no understatement that the weeks ahead are going to be tough. Most likely the family and teachers in your life have never faced anything like it, but they will do their best to guide you. Remember to keep busy, keep it simple, show the universities how much you have accomplished, what you can do even when the going gets tough, and your inner motivation to develop yourself in any situation. For some, the pressure of Covid-19 will be what makes them demonstrate their full potential, as a “whole person”, and that is exactly what universities want to see.

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