Hindsight is 2020: Lessons from the Year that Changed Everything
As I sat at my desk on Friday, March 13, 2020, I had many questions about the impending quarantine. Utterly blind to the imminent rollercoaster ride, none of us knew we were slowly climbing the hill towards an upcoming free fall and wild curves.
Month after month, the changes kept coming. We leaned with every turn, held onto the short reprieves to adjust before the next curve hit, making it challenging to keep up and provide reliable advice to our students. With each change, I saw the admission process through a new lens and adjusted my perspective. I am now using the lessons I learned in 2020 to sharpen my college counseling skills in 2021.
Give students more information about holistic application review.
In 2020, students became more aware of the term “holistic review.” With a growing test-optional movement and now the elimination of the SAT Subject Tests, students have more control over who sees their scores and who doesn’t. My goal as a counselor is to explain all of the opportunities students have to present themselves to colleges, including their personal and academic profiles. Moving forward, this will need to be a more in-depth, intentional conversation.
Encourage students to be open to the uncomfortable.
2020 turned the “traditional” college experience upside down, and colleges need to know how students face challenges and shift gears. Seeking resources and problem-solving skills are also essential to a student’s success on a college campus. Students also need to find new ways to connect and be engaged, especially when an experience is not “in-person.” Asking the question, how do you become a member of a community if that community is not outside your door? Finally, as campuses are reckoning with their racial histories and dialogue about discrimination, introspection is critical. Teaching students to use inquiry and reflection to look at their own biases and expectations will be essential in 2021.
Teach students to be better storytellers.
With the importance of holistic review and the need to see that students are comfortable with the uncomfortable, students must become better storytellers. Through their essays, students need to provide details of their experiences and the context of their opportunities. Colleges recognize that students have factors affecting their lives, like personal circumstances, financial concerns, and family responsibilities, but students have to tell their stories to provide the context.
Have a backup plan for your backup plan.
One consistent piece of the college application process in 2020 is that you cannot make predictions. While I have always been conservative when making students’ college lists, 2020 taught me that you still need a backup plan to your backup plan. With the number of deferrals resulting from early applications, I found myself reviewing students’ college lists – double-checking that we had considered and discussed every option.
Fine-tune knowledge about financial aid.
Access and financial aid will still be top concerns moving forward. Colleges are in precarious financial positions, so only time will tell how that will affect financial aid offers. With significant changes coming to the FAFSA, I will focus on attending webinars and increasing my knowledge of the financial aid process. First-generation and low-income students need more support and information as the college application, and financial aid processes evolve.
Overall, 2020 reminded us college is still a place of learning and exchanging ideas, which does not have to happen in-person to be effective. Still, the community element, learning how to be a human being, is difficult to provide through a screen. Colleges are also places where racial inequities and the effects of a global pandemic are colliding. Throw in government instability and national debates about leadership – and you still have one heck of a roller coaster ride. While 2020 brought changes and lessons, 2021 will be the year to reflect and react. Students and counselors need to lean into the curves and push back on them to keep upright and moving forward.
Katherine Price uses her experiences as a former admissions officer and student affairs professional to develop a student-centered college counseling approach. Through her company, College Mindset, Katherine also helps students develop valuable life skills while navigating the college application process. When she is not working with students, she mentors new IEC’s to help them build a college counseling curriculum that provides the right amount of challenge and support for students.