Some insights into your questions.
First, let me thank everyone who has reached out about the first blog posts. I appreciate your feedback and questions!
Given everything the world has been facing recently, I understand everyone's desire to try to get some answers as to what will happen with colleges this coming fall, whether they are elementary schools or Ivy League universities. Of course, no one really knows what will take place until we see when the virus finally begins to subside. However, because so many of you are asking what I have heard and what my take is on things, I will simply offer up some thoughts and perspectives that will hopefully make you feel better about college admissions and your child's upcoming opportunities.
First, let me address the SAT/ACT:
As of now, the SAT has been canceled this spring. However, they are committed to holding the tests in the fall, even if they are going to be online. In fact, the College Board says that, beginning in August, they will administer weekend SATs every month through the end of the year. This includes an added administration in September that students can register for at the end of May.
Meanwhile, the ACT has not yet canceled the June or July test, and they also state they are committed to holding the exams in the fall. In fact, they are adding more dates: As they state on their website, "As CDC and local guidelines for safety allow, ACT will offer national test dates on June 13 and July 18. If a test center is not able to open on the national test date, a makeup test date will be provided a week later. The makeup test date for the June 13 national test date will be June 20, and the makeup test date for the July 18 test date will be July 25." Furthermore, starting in the late fall of 2020/early winter, the ACT will introduce a new option allowing students to take the ACT test at their home on a computer through remote proctoring as part of its national testing program. More information about this option will be available in the coming weeks.
What does this all mean? Are colleges going test optional or not?
If you are a family with a freshman or sophomore reading this, don't worries, this really doesn't apply to you and, in a year, everything should be back to normal (we hope!!!). For current juniors, this means that it looks like there will be plenty of opportunities to take one of the tests again. The trick is whether a student should take advantage of it. Several big named colleges, including the University of California system and Boston University have said they are now "test optional," meaning students will have the choice to send in test scores. While other schools may join in, I believe that, due to the new statements made by the SAT and ACT, many schools will not go test optional.
Therefore, the best advice I can give to juniors is to proceed as if nothing has changed. Study for the exams and try to do the best on them (unless you are only applying to colleges that do not want/need the tests, such as many theater programs). In other words, even at schools that have gone test optional, if you can do well on the SAT or ACT, it can help give admissions officers reasons to accept you, especially since there may be fewer students who are submitting. Having said this, I would only submit scores to test optional schools if they will help you. This means you should look at the average SAT and ACT scores accepted by a given college and see if you are in the range or above. If not, your scores won't necessarily help you and, if your grades are strong, you can rely on them this year to do the heavy lifting.
Note about SAT Subject Tests: We will have to see if the College Board will administer Subject Tests in the fall. My suggestion, however, is generally the same as usual: if you take a practice Subject Test and feel you can do well (above a college's average range), then take them as they can only help you. Just know that most colleges (and I mean most colleges), do not require Subject Tests anymore, and this year, even colleges that did typically want them are dropping the requirement/recommendation. (You should still check in the fall to be sure.) Therefore, I would not worry about them much this year. And if it is a choice between raising your SAT score and taking a Subject Test, I would typically choose the SAT, as it will be the one more likely to be used in admissions. Of course, this simple answer doesn’t account for a specific student's SAT score or the list of colleges to which he or she is applying. The bottom line is that in this wacky year, I don't believe the Subject Tests aren't going to necessarily make or break it for anyone.
Second, let's discuss what might take place if current restrictions are still in place.
For seniors, it is going to be interesting. Based on what I have read so far, many colleges are committed to opening in the fall as of now, even if they have to do it online. This then raises the question: should a student defer a year or take a "gap year?" The trick, I think, is whether schools will allow incoming freshman to defer because this would both cost the college a lot of money and would mess things up for next year's applicants. Some colleges have already begun to roll out a policy that will allow a student to defer a semester but not a year. This means that instead of starting in August or September, students could choose to start in January. This makes sense, as it provides more time for Covid to go away and for students to not miss an entire year. I certainly don't have a crystal ball, but this makes logical sense, especially because current juniors won't be impacted by a bunch of current seniors taking up their slots in a year.
Having said this, many of you have heard that there will be more spaces available this year because international students cannot travel to the U.S. While this is true, there is no way to say what the situation will be like in a year when current juniors will be getting in and deciding where to go, so we will just have to wait and see.
What does it all mean for college admissions?
It means RUN, HIDE, GET MORE TOILET PAPER! Well, not actually. The way that I am preparing my students and their families is simple. I am proceeding as normal. In other words, there are so many unknowns right now that trying to predict or worry about something that hasn't happened yet doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Additionally, how colleges evaluate applicants this year or next year doesn't change how applicants should be moving forward. Students should still be doing their homework, trying in school, studying for the tests, and trying their best to pursue extracurricular activities. Yes, many summer programs have been canceled, jobs and internships are out the window, and basically the summer is shaping up to be a bit of a mess. However, colleges are obviously going to take this into account, so all students can do is to try to find ways to be productive and further an interest. For example several of my current students are doing (or planning on doing) the following:
Taking a college course online (or on Coursera)
Starting a blog
Starting a podcast
Learning how to play an instrument
Writing a screenplay/making short films in their house
Starting small businesses (I have a girl who started a baking company and donating the proceeds to Covid relief).
Building a rock climbing wall in the backyard
Organizing their friends to write letters to those who could simply use support
There is no "mandatory" extracurricular here, nor should it be about keeping up with someone else. It is about doing what I always try to promote: take something a student is interested in and try to find resources and brainstorm ideas of how to do more of it. It isn't about winning some award or being the "first"; instead, it is simply doing something genuine, something authentic that might actually be enjoyable.
My biggest personal takeaway is simply to give thanks for everything I have and try to help others who I can help. Everything else will take care of itself. I know this may sound simplistic, and I am certainly not trying to give advice. I just have so many students who feel stressed about college that I try to let them know that, in the bigger picture, we will get past this, and they will go to college and have an amazing experience. With some perspective, some patience, and a whole lot of empathy, we can get through this together.