Coronavirus Pandemic Complicates College Plans For High School Students

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A high school classroom in the Netherlands sits empty on March 16 after schools were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Jeroen Jumelet/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)
A high school classroom in the Netherlands sits empty on March 16 after schools were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Jeroen Jumelet/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

College testing services SAT and ACT have canceled testing dates through May due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the closure of college campuses is disrupting the admission and planning process.

COVID-19 is throwing a wrench in a lot of high school students’ plans, says Lisa Micele, a college admissions counselor at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School in Urbana, Illinois.

Juniors are facing new uncertainties about the college admissions process, while seniors are wondering whether their schools will be able to hold proms and graduations, she says. Students and families are also facing anxieties about financial aid amid the growing economic crisis spurred by the pandemic.

“I think what we're going to have to do is help students realize that everyone in this puzzle is really thinking about how to help the system,” Micele says. “There is so much that is literally changing daily, and there are people committed to how can we all approach this and be nimble and flexible and creative.”

As a high school counselor, Micele says it’s also important to check in on students’ emotional and mental well-being during this crisis.

“High school is so much about the social interaction, so I think the No. 1 thing that counselors are concerned about is just the anxieties that come around the social isolation, because as human beings we want to be with each other,” she says.

It’s also important to keep students grounded and remind them what this monumental time in their lives is about, Micele says. She hopes she can help them “reclaim some of the joy” of this time.

“How do we kind of bring them back to remembering that this whole high school process and college admissions process was a journey of them learning who they are and thinking about their future in an exciting way?” she says. “And that's what I hope for my students, that I can help get them back to at least that sense of we're in this together and we'll get through it.”

College Admission Tips From Lisa Micele


For the most up-to-date information on ACT and College Board/SAT exams, please regularly check the College Board and ACT registration pages. Students should also read their emails closely. The College Board is currently discussing at-home testing options for AP Exams as well. Wheels are in motion to support you.

Researching Colleges

While campuses are closed, you can still learn about schools by navigating their website; participating in their enhanced online tools (such as virtual tours, blogs, Zoom panels) and connecting with current students and professors by phone or email exchange.  Some colleges are even allowing students to participate in classes through e-learning this semester. If you have graduates from your high school attending a particular college, reach out to them for information. Read the online school newspapers; follow schools on Instagram; participate in Livestream events. Connect to community.

Re-examine your priorities

Seniors need to revisit your “why” and think about what factors are needed on a campus to provide you with the best experience — to grow & thrive.  Ask yourself: Why are you going to college? What are you seeking out of your experience?  What criteria are most important to you? What are your negotiables and non-negotiables? Who do you need to contact directly — current students or professors?

List your wants and develop your rating system. You are in control. The month of April has always warranted more virtual digging and personal connections (via phone, direct emails to current students and professors, etc.) to go beyond the campus tours. Forget about national college rankings. What are your priorities and rate those for each college.

Talk to college admissions and financial aid offices directly

Remember that you can always call admissions and financial aid offices directly to connect with a human being on the phone. If you need help connecting with people on campus to inquire more about their unique learning and social environments, please reach out to them. They are there to help you. New financial realities may also impact your decisions. Call the financial aid office at each college to discuss this.

May 1: College and enrollment deposits

Leaders in our profession are tirelessly advocating to move the May 1 deadline to June 1.  Here is a GoogleDoc tracking colleges who have formally moved their reply date to June 1.

I encourage you to check this document regularly as the chart can change daily. Thank you to ACCEPT for this document. Note: You can also call colleges directly who do not appear on this list and talk with them. During this global epidemic, we are expecting more flexibility by schools to assist students and families. Ask them for an extension to the May 1 deadline if needed.

Flexible. Nimble. Creative. Compassionate. Common Sense.

These are the words being used to address the anxieties of students and parents. Updates are coming at all of us daily from colleges, universities, testing agencies and schools.

We are in this together.

Julia Corcoran produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O'Dowd. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on March 20, 2020.

Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.



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