April 1, 2020
Mychal Wynn (Northeastern ’79)

COVID-19 and Virtual Learning

The global coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has resulted in colleges abruptly sending students home, K – 12 school closings, governors and mayors issuing stay-at-home orders, empty shelves at local grocery stores, and millions of people being out of work. For millions of families, life with never be the same. Thousands of families will lose loved ones, thousands of companies will go out of business, and millions of people will be unemployed. Yet, high school seniors will still need to confirm college enrollment decisions, while high school students in grades 9 – 11 must adjust their college-bound plans accordingly.

The University of North Carolina University System has approved new, and lower standards for being admitted to a UNC school (i.e., minimum 2.5 GPA; or ACT score of 17; or SAT score of 880). More states are likely to lower admission requirements, allowing more students access to college, while increasing grade and test score requirements to qualify for scholarships, allowing fewer students with access to need-based financial aid. The impact of COVID-19 on ACT and SAT testing is pushing more colleges to become test optional. Current college students learned just how precarious their situations were when they found themselves being told to leave their dormitories, but not having enough money to travel home or having an unstable home situation ahead of them. Over the coming months, many students and families will struggle financially as they navigate an uncertain future. In the fall, new and returning college-bound students are likely to experience increased student loan debt as they finance their way back to, or onto college campuses. Now is the time for prayer, patience, and persistence. As we pray for guidance and divine intervention, we must be patient in dealing with circumstances beyond our control, and persistent in taking an active role in planning for and pursuing our hopes and aspirations.

As K – 12 schools struggle to offer online lessons and virtual instruction, we have seamlessly moved our face-to-face College Planning Cohort meetings into virtual presentations. While Mrs. Wynn and I value our face-to-face meetings with students, our virtual sessions allow us to reach many more students and families. Our first 30-minute, “Parents Only” session, inspired by Dr. Lewis Brinson, Minority Achievement Officer for Pinellas County Schools, lasted well over an hour. This unexpected transition to virtual instruction was not only well received by students, families, and our community partners, but added a transformative new dimension to our programming—one which will allow us to provide greater support for cohorts operated by our faith- and community-based partners. While our monthly face-to-face sessions have space limitations, we can reach hundreds more students through our virtual sessions and expand our program to provide college planning guidance to middle school students beyond our college planning boot camps.  

Where Are ‘We’ Going?

As thousands of high school seniors receive college admission decisions today, they must not only pay attention to where they were offered admission, but how much financial aid they were offered. Students must finalize their enrollment decision for most colleges by May 1. In so doing, students will be binding their family to high college costs, and possibly thousands of dollars in student loan debt over the next 4 – 6 years while attending college and for many years after leaving college. However, high school juniors should be paying attention to where current seniors were offered admission and where they were rejected; and where students were offered full scholarships as opposed to being offered thousands of dollars in student and Parent PLUS loans.

Many high school seniors are uncertain as to what to do next, while pondering such questions as:

  • What should I be doing amid the COVID-19 challenges to higher education?
  • What should I be doing in response to school closings and cancellation of SAT/ACT testing dates?
  • What type of actions should I be taking in preparation for submitting my college applications in the fall?

Unfortunately, there are no quick answers to these and the many other questions that high school juniors should be asking, such as which classes to take in the fall, how to maximize virtual learning opportunities offered by their school district or in their state, how to continue developing their gifts and talents during school closings, or how to demonstrate leadership and where to engage in community service. The reason that we developed our College Planning Cohort Program is that there are no quick answers to college planning, no more than there are quick answers to AP Calculus, AP Physics, or AP Statistics. Achieving proficiency in calculus, or in college planning, requires thoughtful student engagement in lessons, i.e., reading, writing, research, analysis, and synthesis of information, all focused on an intentional outcome, albeit solving a math problem or developing a college plan.

The question that high school juniors are being guided in answering through our April Module: College Application and Scholarship Plan, is “Where Are ‘We’ Going?” The concept of, “We” must be underscored. Developing high quality college application packages will require the assistance of many people and for students to answer such questions as: Who will review my essays? Who will proofread my applications? Who will write my recommendation letters? Who will assist me in preparing for interviews? Who will assist me in preparing portfolios or for auditions? Who will ensure that I have a high quality academic résumé that highlights my commitment to service and leadership? Who will assist me in preparing a special-focus résumé to showcase my athletic or artistic achievements? Who will assist me in navigating the many college and scholarship websites through which I will submit and monitor the status of my applications? Who will assist me in navigating the online portals, after I have been offered admission, so that I may check my financial aid status and view my award letters? And finally, who will assist me and my parents with understanding the financial aid awards that are being offered? There are likely to be many people, volunteering hundreds of hours of their time to support your college and scholarship applications. So, prior to making demands on their time, you must answer the question, “Where are we going?”

Finalizing Enrollment Decisions

It goes without saying that high school seniors should clearly understand financial aid awards, PRIOR, to finalizing enrollment decisions. We are continually dismayed at the number of high school seniors who continue checking the mail or email for award letters, as a result of their failure to read their acceptance letters! In most acceptance letters, colleges provided instructions for setting up a student account and accessing financial aid awards through the college’s online portal—steps that students must take to accept/decline scholarships and grants; accept/decline student loans; and respond to document requests, including being ‘Selected for Verification.’ For those students who focused their attention, almost exclusively on ‘getting in’ rather than on ‘how college will get paid for,’ they will be shocked by the enormous amount of money for which they must now budget and the amount of student and Parent PLUS Loans they must now assume.

Beyond comparing financial aid offers, high school seniors should carefully consider how colleges have responded to the coronavirus crisis. Students should talk to family and friends who are attending college about how their schools are dealing with the crisis and providing student support.

  • How did colleges communicate campus closings?
  • What assistance did colleges provide students in moving out of dorms, storing belongings, returning home, or finding alternative housing?
  • How are colleges ensuring student access to online classrooms?
  • When, and how much, will colleges refund students for tuition, room, and board?
  • How clearly and consistently are colleges communicating with students regarding when campuses will reopen and when students will be allowed to return to campus?

Following are articles of interest:

Another challenge for high school seniors attempting to finalize college enrollment decisions is that many campuses are now closed to campus visits. Consequently, students may be forced to choose among colleges from which they have never visited their campuses. 

Grades 9 – 11—What Now?

For many of our cohort students in grades 9 – 11, the 2019/20 school year will close without their being able to return to school. Our April and May activities will guide students through a year-end assessment in which they unpack their résumés as part of a process of self-reflection and self-assessment:

  • What goals did I set at the beginning of the school year, and how successful was I in achieving those goals?
  • What areas did I experience exceptional levels of achievement, e.g., academics, athletics, art, music, dance, entrepreneurship, etc.?
  • What level of coursework was I able to excel and what level of coursework will I pursue during the next school year, i.e., honors, AP, IB, or dual enrollment?
  • What gifts or talents were developed or revealed and what opportunities will I have during the next school year to further develop my gifts and talents?

These and other such questions must be considered within a college/career context. So doing is the only way of ensuring that during the 2020/21 school year, students will be enrolling into classes, pursuing leadership roles, engaging in community service, and developing their gifts in a manner consistent will maximizing their competitiveness for the colleges and scholarships for which they are intending to apply. In September, 9th graders were introduced to the film “2 Million Minutes,” which provided insight into the global competition for college admission and future jobs. While each of a student’s 2 million minutes of high school is spread over 8 semesters, for high school juniors, your performance during this, your 6th semester of high school, may be the determining factor in where you are offered admission to college at this time next year. 

Cohort Meetings

We are hosting all April and May cohort meetings online for our school district partners—Florence County School District 3, Guilford County Schools, and Pinellas County Schools. We will also host virtual sessions for our Atlanta-area Cohorts, including ASA Guide Right and the United Ghana Christian Church. Online sessions will be presented live and will require advanced registration.

Registration for rising high school seniors opens on May 1. We will continue to host virtual sessions during June, July, and August focused on developing high quality college and scholarship applications packages well ahead of college and scholarship deadlines. While less than 2 percent of students nationally earn full college scholarships, we are pleased to report that the percentage of cohort students attending college on full scholarships is far above the national average. This, in part, is the result our efforts in guiding rising high school seniors in developing high quality college application packages and submitting college applications through the most advantageous admission cycle.

Following is our schedule of online sessions for April:

Saturday, April 11 – ASA Guide Right
8:30 am: Online session opens/advanced registration required
9:00 am – 9:45 am: Presentation for Grades 9 – 10
10:00 am – 10:45 am: Presentation for Grade 11
11:00 am – 11:30 am: For Parents Only

Saturday, April 18 – Guilford County Schools (Final Regular Meeting)
8:30 am: Online session opens/advanced registration required
9:00 am – 11:30 am: Seniors
11:30 am – Noon: Open Mic – Questions and Answers
Noon – 2:30 pm: Juniors
2:30 pm – 3:00 am: Open Mic – Questions and Answers

Friday, April 24 – Florence County School District 3 (Final Regular Meeting)
8:30 am: Online session opens/advanced registration required
9:00 am – 11:30 am: Juniors
11:30 am – Noon: Open Mic – Questions and Answers
Noon – 2:30 pm: Seniors
2:30 pm – 3:00 am: Open Mic – Questions and Answers

Saturday, April 25 – Atlanta-area and Pinellas County Schools
8:30 am: Online session opens/advanced registration required
9:00 am – 11:30 am: Grades 9 – 11
11:30 am – Noon: Open Mic – Questions and Answers
Noon – 2:30 pm: Seniors
2:30 pm – 3:00 am: Open Mic – Questions and Answers

Congratulations 

While many students will receive their college admission decisions today, following is a listing of students who have received recent admission decisions and scholarship notifications:

  • Bre’an M., (Atlanta-area Cohort) – full scholarship to Carleton College.
  • Clint C., (Florence County School District 3 Cohort) – will be attending playing football at Presbyterian University on an academic scholarship
  • Darryl “Keith” Q., Jr., (Guilford County Schools Cohort) – full athletic scholarship to play football at the University of North Carolina Pembroke
  • Jayla S., (Guilford County Schools Cohort) – full scholarship North Carolina A&T Honors College
  • Joshua W., (Guilford County Schools Cohort) – full scholarship offers from Appalachian State; North Carolina A&T Honors College; and Claflin University Honors College
  • Mel S., (Florence County School District 3 Cohort) – full scholarship to Benedict College
  • Sydney S., (Guilford County Schools Cohort) has been offered admission, together with a generous scholarship to Bowdoin
  • Mia P., (Florence County School District 3 Cohort), has been offered a full scholarship to Benedict College
  • Sydney B., (Guilford County Schools Cohort) – full scholarship offers from Tuskegee University and North Carolina Central 
  • Sydney P., (Guilford County Schools Cohort) – full tuition scholarship (+books) to the North Carolina A&T Honors College 
  • Sydney S., (Pinellas County Schools Cohort) – full scholarship to the University of Chicago
  • Sydney S., (Guilford County Schools Cohort) – full tuition scholarships to North Carolina A&T and UNC-Chapel Hill Honors Colleges; and generous financial aid offers from Bowdoin, University of Richmond, Wake Forest, Williams, and Wofford 
  • Zoe P., (Guilford County Schools Cohort) – will be playing soccer at Concord University on an athletic scholarship

College Planning Boot Camps

Our college planning boot camp schedule is being revised for the following school districts:

  • Rising 9th Graders. Judson ISD (Converse, TX)
  • Rising 10th Graders. Judson ISD (Converse, TX)
  • High School Students. Pinellas County Schools (St. Petersburg, FL)
  • Middle School Students. Pinellas County Schools (St. Petersburg, FL)

At this time, the schedule for the following boot camps remains unchanged:

  • June 16 – 18: Rising 11th Graders. Guilford County Schools (Greensboro, NC)
  • July 27 – 30: Rising Seniors. Florence County School District 3 (Lake City, SC).

We are planning to add additional virtual college planning boot camps for the following grades:

  • Rising 9th – 10th Graders
  • Rising 11th Graders 
  • Rising High School Seniors Part I: Identifying the ‘Right’ Colleges and ‘Right’ Scholarships
  • Rising High School Seniors Part II: Essay Writing

Why rising high school seniors must attend a boot camp:

  • Ensure that you have packaged correctly for each of your colleges
  • Ensure that your essays reflect non-cognitive variables and speak to the institutional mission of your colleges
  • Ensure that your essays tells the story that college admission officers need to hear
  • Ensure that you are applying to the ‘right’ colleges, to the ‘right’ admission cycle, and for the ‘right’ scholarships
  • Ensure that you do not begin your senior year of high school behind and overwhelmed 

Registration for our 2020/21 Cohorts opens on June 1 for rising seniors and on July 1 for students in grades 9 – 11. We are currently developing College Planning Cohorts for middle school students (more information forthcoming): 

We encourage our new students to review past newsletters posted to our blog.

Click here to learn more about our cohorts and other programs…