Help Your High School Student Navigate College Search during COVID Pandemic

Help Your High School Student Navigate College Search during COVID Pandemic

By Kim Penney, owner of One-on-One College Consulting


No one can deny it has been an unprecedented year for families nationwide. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has interrupted school, sports, and other activities for kids of all ages. For high schoolers, COVID-19 has disrupted the college admissions process, making an already-stressful time even more nerve-wracking. SATs/ACTs have been cancelled. In-person college tours are paused. Pass/fail grading makes transcripts trickier. How can high schoolers (and their families) successfully navigate the college search and application process during the pandemic?


Researching schools, developing a targeted list, completing applications, writing essays, and staying on top of schools’ strict deadlines can be overwhelming in the best of times. Trying to juggle these tasks during a once-in-a-generation pandemic may feel insurmountable.


Consider the following tips to help your high schooler succeed:


  • Go beyond virtual college tours. Online tours and information sessions are valuable when we can’t physically visit college campuses due to COVID restrictions, but go beyond these channels for a deeper dive. Watch YouTube videos recorded by students talking about life on campus. Email, text, or Skype friends (or friends of friends) that attend your top-choice colleges and ask them questions for more robust perspectives.
  • Control what you can. Recognize certain things are out of your hands –whether that’s remote learning, a cancelled SAT test, or a missed basketball season. Understand that your peers are in the same boat during this super weird year. Continue to study, participate in extracurriculars that are available, and create a plan for your college admissions activities.
  • Be financially realistic. COVID-19 has had a significant economic impact with job losses and furloughs changing many families’ economic situations. Students may need to consider less expensive college options and/or investigate schools that provide generous financial aid packages.

  • Use online services to stay on track. User-friendly online tools can help students stay on track with their college applications, meet deadlines, complete their essays, and adjust to COVID-related changes to admissions processes.
  • Do your due diligence. Research your top-choice schools. Are their enrollments stable, rising, or declining? What’s their student retention rate? What’s their endowment and what do they spend per full-time student? What percentage of students are international? (International students typically receive less financial aid, so during COVID travel restrictions, the decline of international students could negatively impact schools’ bottom line.) Do you see construction projects around campus? It’s a good sign that a school is financially healthy if it’s building a new science center or renovating dorms. Are the schools’ social media posts positive (e.g., new programs, prestigious awards) or concerning (e.g., employees complaining about budget cuts).
  • Expand your college search. Today’s high schoolers can explore a wider variety of colleges online, allowing them to consider options beyond what may fit into their travel budgets or busy schedules. While virtual tours aren’t the same as being on-campus, the silver lining is that students can “visit” more colleges virtually and consider schools that they may otherwise have disregarded.
  • Use quarantine time wisely. Learn a new skill – like playing the guitar or speaking a new language – via Zoom. Make masks for your community, organize a food drive, or get involved in a political campaign. Admissions offices want to see students making the most of this unusual time, not just binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy or playing video games.
  • Consider “test optional” schools. COVID has disrupted standardized tests and high school students may be unable to take the ACT and SATs due to pandemic restrictions. Increasingly, colleges – including the entire University of California system – are not requiring those test scores as an admissions qualifier.
  • Work with a college consultant. Admissions coaches can help students narrow down their college choices, write powerful essays, create applications that get noticed, and find the best fit for their unique needs and interests. Some consultants have strong relationships with college athletic departments/coaches, and are expertly positioned to help student athletes get recruited and secure athletic scholarships.


While the past year has been disappointing for our students – who are missing prom, homecoming, school plays and band, and opportunities to socialize with friends – they can look forward to a successful college experience. By following this advice, high schoolers (and their families) can navigate the college search process to find the right fit for a bright future.



Kim Penney, owner of One-on-One College Consulting,has been an educational consultant for 20 years. Kim has been featured as an expert on Nightline, Boston’s Fox 25, and other high-profile media outlets, about how students can succeed in the college search and application process.




Education Tweens & Teens