By Serge W. Desir Jr., Director, Orientation and Enrollment Marketing Services
ST. PETERSBURG — I know there are a lot of questions right now about how the Coronavirus pandemic is affecting students who plan on applying to college. That’s why I want to talk to you today about the admissions application process.
Despite everything happening in our community and across the globe, the college application timing has not changed. The applications for next summer and fall are already open at the University of South Florida and other schools across the nation. The review process will begin in the next couple of months.
That having been said, there are some new considerations given the COVID-19 situation. I’ll address all of those in the recommendations below.
I also want to take a minute to emphasize our commitment at USF’s St. Petersburg campus to welcoming students from south St. Petersburg. I am a proud graduate of Gibbs High School, and I want to do everything I can to help others from my community find success at USF St. Petersburg.
There are multiple pathways to gain entry to our university, from transitioning in as a transfer student to applying for the spring semester. We’re always available to talk to you about your options, so please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Now, let’s get started:
- Apply Now: As mentioned above, if the application for the college or university in which you’re interested is open for next summer or fall, submit the application as soon as you can. This allows you to get the one element entirely in your control done.
Be thorough, honest and concise. If you’re unsure about how to answer a question, either err on the side of caution and provide the information or contact the admissions office for guidance.
- Get a Fee Waiver or Pay the Fee: Perhaps more than in recent memory, taking the time to request an application fee waiver is critical. Most colleges will accept fee waivers from the ACT, College Board or NACAC, which usually must be signed by your high school college counselor before submission to the admissions office.
Please note that even if the online admissions application portal has a way to accept fee waiver requests electronically, there may be a delay in the request being recognized and approved. Consequently, making this arrangement early is very important.
- Submit Your High School Transcripts: Before the pandemic, it would have been easy to say submitting your high school transcript immediately after your application was a clear next step. However, if there were changes to your academic plan as a result of COVID-19, work with your college counselor and the admissions office to make sure you time the submission in a way that works best, given your circumstances.
Many colleges still encourage students to submit their transcripts as early as possible in the fall of their senior year. Not only does this enhance the likelihood you’ll be offered admission, but it also puts you in the best position for scholarship and other special opportunities. Do not wait for your first-semester senior grades to be available either, not unless you’re advised to do so by your college counselor or an admissions officer. Get in what you can as soon as possible! (Sensing a theme yet?)
- Submit Test Scores: There is a lot of uncertainty about ACT and SATs for the high school class of ’21. During the pandemic, many standardized tests were canceled or postponed, limiting – if not outright restricting – students’ testing opportunities. Hopefully, rising seniors were able to get at least one test completed over the past few months.
Fortunately, more and more colleges across the nation are going “test-optional,” meaning they may not require the submission of standardized tests for the admissions review process. If one of the colleges you’re considering is “test-optional,” understanding what that means – and how it may be limited in breadth (for example, for admission but not for scholarship consideration) – is important.
Please note that at the time of this column’s publication, Florida’s State University System (SUS) has not yet determined if any of the public universities – like USF – will be test-optional. If you have test results and you’re interested in a state institution, submit them as soon as you can. If they’re not quite where they need to be, colleges will encourage you to retest if there’s time. As with transcripts, get in what you can ASAP!
- Arrange Quality Recommendations Now: Many colleges appreciate, and some require, recommendations from teachers, high school counselors and others who know you best. To get the most of these recommendations, be sure to give those writing them enough time to write them. Also, make sure that if there are specific questions, they’re supposed to address on your behalf, that your recommenders understand them.
Finally, make sure that you’re approaching folks who can speak honestly, appreciatively, and well (grammatically and personally) about you but who also have a degree of objectivity. So, steer clear of family members and close personal friends for these recommendations!
- Write Thoughtful Essays: As with recommendations, a personal essay may be encouraged or required by your college. For larger institutions, the essay may be one of the best ways for the admissions staff to get to know you beyond the black-and-white of your transcripts and test scores, so take them seriously. Be sure to understand and answer the prompt, especially if the essay is required.
Also, make sure to read your draft repeatedly to find errors before you submit it: spell check, grammar check, college name check! Finally, consider what you really want to share about yourself to make you stand out.
For example, almost every college-bound student will have a COVID-19 tale, so writing an essay about that is not going to have much of an impact (not to mention that the admissions folks reading your essay have their own stories). Instead, write about one of your many other qualities that make you the type of person who will be academically successful and take the college to the next level.
- Follow the Admissions Process: This could be the first suggestion given its importance. Check each college’s admissions requirements. Even among Florida’s state university system, there are significant differences among the universities’ admissions criteria and procedures.
Make sure to fulfill all obligations for each college you’re considering and that you do so sooner rather than later. The last thing you want to experience is a glitch or technical issue with your computer, smartphone, or tablet the night before your application is due.
I hope this list provides you with a running start. If you have additional questions, USF’s St. Petersburg offers a program called Pinellas Access to Higher Education (PATHE) program. PATHE counselors can assist you and can be reached at 727-873-4728. We are here if you need us!