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Is Your Student “College Ready” After Covid?

Updated: Apr 15, 2021

What a question! And, how as a parent, do you decide if your student is “College Ready” after more than a year of interrupted, remote education? Essential College Coaches has been grappling with just this query as we support our students searching for the Right-Fit College. Education, like much of our world, was not pandemic ready. There was no on/off switch to keep our students engaged and learning. There was certainly not quick relief for the additional anxiety and worry our kids are experiencing. As we enter the second year of COVID learning, Lisa and I want to share, in a series of blogs, what we now know for certain and what are the most critical questions neither high schools nor colleges have yet to answer. As we tell our students, knowledge is power, and it starts with asking the right questions.

To begin answering the first question: “Will our current high school juniors and seniors be ‘College Ready?’” Early data suggests the national bar a high school graduate must clear has been lowered. However, the glaring follow-up question remains unanswered: Will high schools remediate the losses suffered by the students through Covid-19 or will colleges have to do the remediating to ensure our students meet diploma qualifications?

We know that remote and hybrid learning has proved difficult for high school students. Teachers are grading more leniently, students have more opportunities to cheat, and the majority of students who thrive in standard in-person education have suffered lower grades as a result of the switch to online learning.

We are beginning to see the results of this subpar education. Broadly, students are doing worse on standardized testing outcomes, both nationally and locally. The National Merit indexes have dropped in virtually every state. Year over year, PSAT scores had continued to climb until the results of the latest test. This test dropped the national merit index for Commended Students from 212 in 2020 to 209 in 2021, the same number as the 2017 index. Perhaps even more significant, participation was a fraction of the prior year: the number of PSAT test takers in October 2020 dropped by over half (44% of the 2019 numbers). The pandemic also reduced high school seniors’ opportunities to take the SAT or ACT tests. Typically, the PSAT shows students their test scores in comparison to the nation, which helps them develop an appropriate college list, and create additional study plans before they produce an SAT or ACT score that will be presented as part of their college application.

Most colleges were compelled to offer “test optional” on their 2020 college applications and subsequently, the top colleges in the US received record numbers of applications, somewhat counter to what was expected during a pandemic. Students applied to more colleges than ever, believing the test optional route would allow them to get into schools they might not have otherwise gotten into. We have seen it described as the “college lottery syndrome.” Our substantial experience continues to affirm that colleges which have historically relied on data as a point of acceptance will continue to take scores that are submitted. If fact, both SAT and ACT are now using the marketing pitch that such scores may advantage students as a resume booster, even as colleges say they are moving towards test optional. Bottom line, any student seriously considering selective schools should create a comprehensive study plan to maximize their test results. As the pool of students submitting test scores is declining, your student could use this to improve their application changes.

Ultimately, Essential College Coaches has concluded that standardized tests remain a critical component of any student’s application despite many universities' stated shift towards a “holistic” review. The new SAT, introduced in 2017, has proven difficult to “game,” as it is much challenging to move up from one’s initial diagnostic score. We believe that most colleges will find it hard to compare applicants by relying heavily on non-quantitative measurements to anticipate college readiness and the best applicants will continue to produce solid grades, test scores and a strong resume.

Back to our first question - how do we ensure our students will be “College Ready?” Ideally, we hope that both high schools and colleges will address how to remediate the education of our pandemic students. As we wait to understand the full impact, helping your student find the Right-Fit College has never been more important. COVID-19 may have changed your student’s educational needs, your family’s financial and other priorities. As you process this shift, Essential College Coaches will work with your family to meet this changing educational landscape.

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