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Tri-Ed Tutoring’s Founder and Director Amanda Paldao interviewed Victoria Turner Turco, owner of Turner Educational Advising and co-creator of Applying to College 123, to discuss changes in this year’s college admissions process during COVID-19.

Q: With so many test cancellations, should my senior still take the SAT or ACT for the first (or last) time?

A: With so many schools going test optional this year, many parents and students think that means test scores don’t matter. They do! Not only can scores be the deciding factor for admissions, they also impact merit offers, which can open doors to the possibility of attending more expensive schools such as private or out-of-state schools.

If your student has not yet taken the test or could realistically improve his or her score, I strongly advise taking the test this fall, even if that means driving a longer distance. Just think, by this time next year, it will be a bad memory.

If your student is not a strong test taker and probably won’t improve scores by taking the test again, it makes sense to spend more effort on the college application instead of the added stress of fitting in an SAT or ACT.

Q: Should my student submit SAT or ACT scores to a test optional school?

A: If your student’s SAT or ACT scores fall within the average range of accepted scores at that school, I recommend submitting test scores even if it’s not required. A high test score can be the one factor that sets your student apart from other applicants with similar GPAs and qualifications, increasing the competitiveness of his or her application. However, if your student scores below the average range of a particular test optional school, I advise against submitting scores for the same reason. Once college admission reps view a low test score they may wonder if the applicant has what it takes to succeed at that school. In this case, it’s better to keep them guessing.

Q: Does test optional mean taking the test is optional?

A: No! A test optional admissions policy states that SAT or ACT scores are not a requirement when applying for admissions. This does not mean your student should not take the test at all; it means he or she can choose to submit or omit scores. If your student chooses to submit scores, they will be viewed and factored into the admissions decision. Just because it’s optional does not mean these scores do not carry weight- they do! Many students and parents confuse test optional with test blind, in which scores that are submitted are not viewed at all and have no impact on the admissions decision. Few schools are test blind.

Q: Should my student respond to the optional COVID-19 essay question on the common application?

A: It depends. This question provides students with the opportunity to share any hardships they have experienced as a result of COVID-19. It also provides college admission reps with the opportunity to assess a student’s judgement regarding optional essays and impactful responses.

With this specific essay prompt, admission reps want to know if you can tell the difference between a hardship and inconvenience. They want to read about experiences that caused a true hardship such as a student who lost someone to COVID or faced uncertainty because their parents were laid off. These hardships have an influential impact on an applicant and should be addressed in his or her response.

Alternatively, it is also a place to show colleges how a student pivoted during an unprecedented time. If a student was proactive during COVID and secured a summer internship or served the community despite the massive closures and chaos caused by the pandemic, I would encourage the student to respond to this prompt. As long as he or she explains that the essay is not focused on a hardship but the ability to pivot during changing times, this response could enhance the application. On the other hand, if COVID has been inconvenient because your student has been bored, misses friends, and couldn’t take the SAT due to test cancellations, I suggest not responding to this optional prompt.

Q: Is there an overall strategy you recommend for students applying to college this fall?

A: Initiative is the name of the game this year. Seniors should be checking in with their guidance counselors on a consistent basis asking, “Are my transcripts going where they need to go?” and “Have you received all my recommendations?” It’s ultimately your student’s responsibility to ensure all materials are submitted on time, and since it’s not possible to pop in a guidance counselor’s office for a quick check in, it’s essential to use a different method of follow up such as phone or email.

Applying to College 1,2,3 is an interactive, modulated course that walks students through all aspects of the application process. Learn more at https://applyingtocollege123.com/