Colleges internationally have shut down their campuses and in-person research operations in response to the COVID-19 crisis, but the application cycles for most remain unaffected. Meanwhile, many high school students are stuck at home. While admissions officers will take into consideration the difficulties faced by students during this period, this is a unique opportunity for students to show their persistence, creativity, and passion by working around the challenges they face and still accomplishing impressive feats.
1. Develop an Independent Project/Extracurricular Activity
Now is a great time to put your mind to something you’ve been thinking about for a while—finally making that website you’ve thought about, writing your submission for that poetry competition, or building out that prototype you’ve had in the back of your mind.
If you don’t have something already in mind to work on, the current situation also poses a number of ways you can contribute in your free time. Develop your data science chops and help address the crisis by analyzing data from the National Institutes of Health, or Worldometer. If you’re interested in biology or medicine, think about analyzing your state’s or city’s response and reaching out to local online news to feature your story.
2. Maintain Engagement with School Extracurriculars
Many people forget about their extracurricular activities over the summer or while at home, but now is a perfect time to give your debate skills a quick refresher, read up on international affairs for the next Model UN conference (or plan your own virtual mini-conference with your club), or study for your favorite science olympiad. These will give you a huge advantage returning to school after the summer.
If you’re on club leadership, finding a way to help keep members engaged and learning could make a great story for your supplemental applications essays. Otherwise, continue to work towards major achievements that you can put in the awards and honor section of your application. Aim for awards at the state or national level rather than the school or local level.
3. Study for AP/ACT/SAT/SAT Subject Tests
While some schools are going test-optional, meaning they won’t require you to report an SAT or ACT score as is normally required, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t study for and take them. Elite colleges will expect that you take and do very well on one unless you provide a good reason why you are unable to do so. Performing well on the SAT or ACT is still a strong way to demonstrate intellectual ability, studying skills, and focus. Without it, admissions officers are going to lean more heavily on your grades, teacher recommendations, and counselor recommendation for determining your capability as a student, so make sure these are representative of your scholarship if you’re considering not taking a major standardized test.
With AP tests just around the corner, make sure to prepare by taking practice tests and staying updated by visiting the Collegeboard website.
4. Volunteer In Your Community
Especially with the ongoing crisis, many hospitals, homeless shelters, and elderly communities are now and will be in need of volunteers for months, whether virtually or in person. Check the State Service Commission or 10 Ways to Safely Help Your Community During COVID-19 if you’re having trouble finding established opportunities to help. You can also cold call hospitals, senior living centers, or other nonprofit organizations and ask if you can help.
Otherwise, think about joining or starting organizations that have sprung up to address parts of the COVID-19 crisis like TeleHealth Access for Seniors. These will give you strong startup and nonprofit experience to include on your activities list and, later down the line, your resume when applying for internships or jobs.
After determining your academic qualifications for a particular college, admissions officers often look to evaluate your personality and contribution to society. They want people who are going to make their college community and city better places, and committing to give back through volunteering, running fundraisers, or organizing your own effort is a great way to show them you’re prepared to do just that.
5. Take Online Courses
Many students seek to demonstrate a love for learning on their college application, but they’re unsure of just how to do that with their essays. One great way to prove to colleges that you are passionate about a subject, strong in that academic area, and self-motivated is to take online courses in your free time. Coursera, Udemy, MOOC, edX, and Skillshare all offer fantastic courses in a variety of subjects at a reasonable level for high school students, and you can list the courses you take here in the additional information section of your application.
Almost regardless of your field of interest, learning a little bit of programming can highlight your problem-solving skills and preparation for the future. Code.org, Algoexpert, and Leetcode are high-level resources for developing coding abilities that not only prepare you to excel in your future endeavors but look great if you mention them on your application.
However you do it, make sure to stay motivated and keep learning while stuck at home. Colleges want students who seek out opportunities and make them happen. Find ways to self-motivate, pursue your interests, develop your extracurricular list, and help your community while staying safe during a global pandemic, and you’ll have much to discuss when you write your applications.