‘There’s still plenty of time to make things work’

A high school counselor who has advised thousands of students on their college decisions wants families to stress less about the process and be assured there’s a place for their student in higher education.

Heidi Green, director of counseling services at Fayetteville-Manlius High School, offered advice and information about the college application process during a live Q&A Thursday on Syracuse.com’s Facebook page.

The coronavirus has added another layer of stress to picking a college. Students and families are contending with restrictions on campus visits, college fairs happening virtually, and time and activities lost to school shutdowns.

“If there are students or parents out there who are thinking, my senior is so far behind, I would say no, you’re exactly where you need to be,” Green said. “Is it time to get moving? Absolutely. But there’s still plenty of time to make things work.”

Students fill out a common application that works for all colleges. Applications are generally are due in January, Green said. Students usually find out if they are accepted by March or so. Then they have until May 1 to pick a school. Deadlines for early admission and early decision are – well – earlier. Some of Green’s students are rushing to meet November deadlines. Check with your target schools to make sure you know when to apply.

Due to the pandemic, many colleges are waiving college entrance exams — the SAT and ACT — for the class of 2021. Green recommends that students in the class of 2022 be prepared for that requirement to return.

More highlights of our chat:

On choosing from 4,000+ U.S. colleges: Green advises students and parents to narrow it down to five to 10 schools by deciding how far the college should be from home; what kind of atmosphere the student prefers (urban vs. rural, big vs. small, conservative vs. liberal, public vs. private); the cost; and the strength and variety of academic offerings. “Nearly one-third of students go to college undecided, and that’s fine … if you don’t know what major, you have to find a place that has lots of majors, lots of choices,” she said.

On the campus visit: It’s critical. “There’s no better way to get a sense of the feel of the place than walking around the campus,” Green said. Some campuses are opening to visitors. Even if they are not, nothing prevents your family from driving to a campus, walking around and – with proper masks and distancing – asking students about their experiences. You could sample a variety of college atmospheres in Central New York colleges in just one day. Also, many colleges have used this crisis to improve their online tours, Green said.

On financial aid in pandemic times: The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form for 2021 opened Oct. 1. It relies on income data from 2019 – which won’t capture job losses or furloughs parents may have experienced due to Covid-19. There isn’t a place on the form to report that information. Green recommended that parents communicate financial hardships to college financial aid officers after completing the FAFSA.

Online resources for parents and students: The College Board, which administers the SAT, offers timelines by grade level and a website (https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/) to help students sift through college choices. Find virtual college fairs at https://www.nacacfairs.org. Ethan Sawyer, “the college essay guy,” offers free sources on his website and Facebook page. OnPoint for College, a Syracuse nonprofit, helps low-income students with applications, college visits and supplies. Boys and Girls Clubs often will bring in college admissions counselors. The New York State Association for College Admission Counseling runs a summer program called Camp College, bringing high school students onto campuses for a couple of days of coaching.

On finding a place in college: The average college acceptance rate is 70%. “We read in the media about that small, little group that accept fewer than 20% of applicants, but for the most part, acceptance to college isn’t quite as dire as some people think,” Green said. “And so I would like families to enjoy the process, try to have fun through the process, celebrate the opportunity of higher education.”

Check out the rest of the interview to hear Green talk about how students can make their applications stand out from the crowd; how to assess the prospects of an athletic scholarship; why your personal essay probably shouldn’t be about the coronavirus pandemic; and why finding the right fit is the most important thing about choosing a college.


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