College Planning in the Time of COVID – A Top 10 List by Brett Levine

 An article “A Year of Chaos and Flexibility,” featured July 2oth on, paints an uncertain picture for colleges trying to recruit, admit, and enroll students.

Like colleges that have to wrestle with so many unanswered questions, so do High School students. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers as High School students start the college search and application process.  A process that, due to COVID, has become more confusing. So, how should students proceed in the time of COVID?  Below are 10 suggestions:

  1. For those 2020 High School graduates, don’t be afraid to defer your admissions and take a Gap Year. Taking a year off between High School and College is a leap of faith, but it might be the right move.  And YES, there are meaningful experiences a student who takes this year off can take advantage of even during these times.
  2. Understand what’s happening with the SAT and ACT. Many colleges have waived the standardized testing requirement for the Freshmen class of 2021. Figure out where you stand with regard to this. Visit for a comprehensive list of test-optional schools.
  3. For current Seniors, get ready to start working on your Common Application (If Applicable).   The Common Application for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle will be available on August 1, 2020.  So, in preparation, make sure (at the very least) you have a copy of your High School transcript.
  4. Sign up for any virtual tours, information sessions, or admissions chats your perspective colleges are hosting. Remember demonstrated interest counts in the admissions process. Many colleges and universities will continue to track your interest by your “virtual” attendance.
  5. Be prepared to answer the question, How has COVID impacted you? This question may be answered in the additional information section of The Common Application and will probably be asked in other application platforms. While responding to this might not be required, it is highly advisable.
  6. Request your teacher recommendations now. Yes now! If you are applying to colleges that require letters of recommendation from teachers, now is the time to work to secure them. Each request should be accompanied by a document reminding the teacher of the contributions you made in their respective class, your outside interests, and what you think you will appeal to the college you attend. Be polite, professional, and grateful in your requests. I believe that, due to COVID, letters of recommendation will carry even greater weight in the admissions process than in past years. So, manage this aspect of the process with fidelity.
  7. Familiarize yourself with the online college application program your school uses. For most High Schools, that’s either Naviance or SCOIR.  Either way, make sure you know your username and password and how these websites work.
  8. No one can predict, with any certainty, what will happen with The Higher Education and college admission landscape. Be prepared for uncertainty.
  9. Remember the #1 factor in College Admissions is your grades. This won’t change due to COVID.  Even though the High School experience will look and feel different this year, the one constant is the importance of your grades. Don’t lose sight of this.
  10. As you go through the college admissions process, make sure you take care of your mind, your soul, and your body.  Don’t let the college admissions process impact your health.



Brett is the founder of Sensible College Counseling, whose mission it is “to provide college counseling that is rational, data-driven and humanistic.”

In an education career spanning over 25 years, Brett has served thousands of students going through the college search, application, and selection process.  He has worked  as a school counselor and administrator in two New Jersey districts and as a college admissions officer and academic advisor at Adelphi University and New York University.

Brett has presented at conferences at the local, state and national level including  but not limited to presentations at the College Board Regional Forum (Philadelphia, The National Association of College Admissions Counseling annual conference (Seattle, Milwaukee, and Pittsburgh).  Presentations have addressed college admissions myths, the portrayal of college admissions in mass media, selective college admissions, research based college admissions and legal issues in college admissions.

Brett has been quoted in the New York Times and The New Jersey Star Ledger and has received awards for service from the New Jersey Association of College Admissions Counseling. 

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