The next few college admission cycles will look nothing like we’ve known because of so many fluid uncertainties. Since most colleges will pause, or completely stop, the test score requirements (SAT and/or ACT), what can you do to stand out?
If your sports or band season is delayed or cancelled because of the impact of the pandemic, are you going to take a "well-deserved" break? I hope not. Retirement is well-deserved, not a pause in competition. You need to be committed to put in the hard work. Jennifer Lopez said that "hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard”. During the off-season, work with a tutor to improve your talent (instrument, voice, coding, ballet...) or a trainer to create a routine that sets you apart from the rest-ers.
Without test scores and with grades being relatively equal, how should college admissions officers evaluate your application? It could be that extracurricular activities will set you apart from other applicants.
Wyatt Sloan, a former colleague at Ennova wrote that, “students who are right on the lower edge of the academic requirements may be able to tip the scales in their favor if their college application shows they were involved outside the classroom. For students who are seeking admission to a selective university, showing your willingness to engage in activities and go above and beyond can elevate you above students who did not participate in anything outside of their academic obligations. When two students have remarkably similar academic profiles, extracurricular activities might just be that make or break factor for an admissions officer.”
When it comes to extracurricular activities, it does not mean joining every club, meeting for an hour, and listing your attendance record on your application or resume. Doing extra does not mean being exhaustive or exhausted. It’s about “quality over quantity.” Taking a leadership position such as president, secretary, representative, treasurer, or team captain shows a commitment to quality. Being involved on a tennis team, scout troop, or youth group demonstrates to a college that you have the ability and skills to remain committed at the next level.
When you do extra, people notice. Going the extra mile doesn’t come with a digital ad announcing your sacrificial service. When Jesus was preaching on the mountain he said, “if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two” (Matthew 5:41, HCSB).” He was talking about doing extra.
While you may be required to go one mile (carry a Roman soldiers backpack, carry a seniors tuba, do 50 burpees, paint living objects, or run five miles), you are not required to go the second mile. As a challenge to what was normal for the day, Jesus encouraged his followers to carry the backpack one more mile. Go the extra mile. Do extra because it’s the right thing to do. Serving others at church, in your neighborhood, or in the community because you care gets noticed.
So what are you going to “do extra” to stand out from everyone else?
Run an extra lap. Draw an extra character. Lift an extra rep. Push an extra up (or something like that).
Answering that simple question will be among the dozen essays and short answers the upcoming class of college applicants will have to write. The “why us” question helps colleges know why you want to attend their university.
If you have not started the process of writing your college essays, especially your personal statement, you are missing a great opportunity to get ahead. Consuming hours of screen time is not propelling you into your future.
Don’t be the applicant who is demanding that an essay editor review their submission hours before the application deadline.
Be the applicant who is praised because they are prepared in advance.
As a part of your preparation, understand that applying to seven colleges that require 3 or 4 essay questions will take time. You have a lot of words to write. As an essay reader, I know what to expect within the first sentence. Readers know when responses are rushed or thoughtful.
When it comes to the essay questions themselves, some prompts are designed to be silly while others are serious. However, your responses to the silly and serious questions will be read and evaluated. For some, it is less than 10 percent of your application review. Many colleges don’t require essays. For others, the essay is the tipping point when the reader is on the fence about accepting or rejecting your application.
Here are some silly and serious examples.
“What do you hope to find over the rainbow?” – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (NC)
“A hot dog might be a sandwich, and cereal might be a soup, but is a ______ a ______?” – University of Chicago (IL)
“Celebrate your nerdy side.” – Tufts University (MA)
“Describe your favorite ‘Bazinga’ moment.” – Lehigh University (PA)
“What song should we be listening to while reading your application?” – Chapman University (CA)
“Pick a movie or novel where the protagonist makes a difficult choice. Do you agree or disagree with the decision he or she made?” – Bucknell University (PA)
“There is a breadth of intellectual opportunities here at Rice. Further explain your intended major and other areas of academic focus you may explore.” – Rice University (TX)
“What was the environment in which you were raised? Describe your family, home, neighborhood, or community, and explain how it has shaped you as a person.” – Apply Texas Application (TX)
“Reflect on a time when you were surprised to learn that things were not as they seemed. How did those conclusions evolve and what did you learn? How did you share that learning experience with others or allow it to shape a future endeavor?” – University of Miami Honors Program (FL)
“Brown’s Open Curriculum allows students to explore broadly while also diving deeply into their academic pursuits. Tell us about an academic interest (or interests) that excites you, and how you might use the Open Curriculum to pursue it.” – Brown University (RI)
 Read the mission statement. Learn if you are a good candidate by reading the mission statement for each college. You’ll do the same thing when you are applying for a job to see if you agree with and are willing to support their mission.
 Answer the “why” question. Research the program and find out how it connects with your personal experiences and expectations. Respond to the question based on how their program or specific focus will help improve your educational goals.
 Be unique. Shirag Shemmassian says “it's important to select a unique topic.” He reminds students that WHAT they write about is far less important than HOW they write.
 Write about what you know. Students who try to write an essay based on what they think the admissions reader wants to hear misses the point. You need to share what you want the admissions committee to know about you. Write about you!
 Think, dig deeper, and write from the heart. Colleges will ask questions about how your life experiences (triumph, trauma, etc.) has shaped who you are. For example, Columbia University asks students to explain how their current and past experiences attract them to their specific field of study.
 Don’t overthink your responses. College admissions officers want you to have fun and share about your life. For example, The University of Texas Honors Program challenges applicants to submit five sentences about their life. Here is the prompt: "Help us get to know you better. Please write five sentences (numbered 1 – 5) that give us some insight into you, your life, your interests and your experiences. There are no right answers—feel free to be creative and think outside the box."
 Review and revise. Make sure to have an adult, essay editor, teacher, or an independent educational consultant like myself review your essay after your first draft and after your first revision. Accept their help to improve your voice.
It’s time to start writing your essays.
Let’s learn from your experience. In the comments below, post some of the essay prompts that you are answering along with the name of the college.
There are four realities playing out as a result of the pandemic:  collegiate sports are being cut,  college sports are being canceled or suspended  many collegiate sports are evaluating their negative athletic budgets, and  HOPEFULLY students are understanding the importance of focusing on academic success more than athletic success.
Some colleges are cutting sports.
As a result of the coronavirus impact on college athletics, Stanford University announced (July 8) they are cutting 11 varsity sports after the end of the 2021 academic year. Among the understandable considerations, there were only two Division 1 field hockey and fencing programs on the West Coast. To their credit, Stanford supported 36 varsity sports, while the average Division I athletics program sponsored 18.
Currently, 80 programs have been cut across all college divisions. Most are small team sports. To abide by Title IX rules, men’s teams may be the first to be cut.
Some colleges are canceling sports (just for the fall).
In the first move among Division I universities, the Council of Ivy League Presidents announced (July 8) they are suspending all intercollegiate athletics for fall 2020. Practice will be allowed if students abide by college and state guidelines.
Of note, the only Ivy League sport that does not participate in the postseason is football. I don’t think this decision will affect other football programs. As of today, the Texas vs. OU, Army vs. Navy, and Alabama vs. Auburn games are still on!
The Division II Morehouse College Maroon Tigers announced (June 26) that they will not participate in football or cross country during the fall semester. They will honor all athletic scholarship awards.
On July 7, the Centennial Conference (Division III) “decided to suspend any inter-collegiate competition for sports scheduled for the fall semester.”
Some colleges are laying off coaches.
Sports Illustrated reported that Youngstown State will cut 20 coaches with others taking pay cuts but will not eliminate any sports programs.
Stanford will lose 22 coaches.
Some colleges are cutting scholarships.
UConn announced (June 24) they are cutting some scholarships and eliminating four sports.
Combined the UConn men's tennis, men's swimming/diving, men's track and cross country, and women's rowing had revenues of $403,000 and expenditures of $4,169,000 (only 10.3% of the expenditures is covered by revenues). Of course, at public universities, taxpayers fill the gaps.
It is devastating.
Colleges athletic departments want to offer competitive sports for their alumni, avid fans, to advertise their college, and recruit potential students. They also want to make money.
Collegiate athletes want to compete at a higher level. They want to prepare for a career in sports. They want to represent their country at the Olympics.
Collegiate coaches want to coach at a higher level. They want to train athletes to be better men, women, and citizens. Now many, along with their staff, will lose their jobs if not reassigned.
The timing of these decisions significantly impacts incoming freshman and current students on teams being cut. They won’t have time to transfer or consider other options. It’s coming at them too quick.
How Will You Respond
While some colleges will be faced with the decision to eliminate certain programs, others will benefit from the increased pool of talent looking to join competitive programs.
I believe the timing gives rising seniors a chance to scan the college landscape to find other athletic programs. They may have to step up their game to be more competitive, on and off the field, since more athletes will be looking for fewer spots on rosters.
With college budgets being cut (especially public institutions) and athletic scholarships being cut, all future student-athletes need to understand the importance of earning high grades to earn merit aid (the best way to pay for college) and private college scholarships.
What steps are you taking to prepare to compete in college in the sport of your choice?
What steps are you taking to prepare to complete college with a bachelor’s degree?
Take time to research your chances of playing college sports (I can help you with this research!), which colleges to apply to for academics and athletics, earning scholarships, and the total cost of attendance.
How Will You Mentally Prepare
Once you recognize and accept the challenges that are between you and your athletic goals, you need to prepare mentally. Mental health will improve your physical health.
The best way to mentally prepare is to sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to depression, stress, anxiety and affects how you see and interact with the world around you.
One way to prepare is to attend mental health webinars with speakers like Bryn Dresher (Twitter, Instagram), who recently spoke with the Online Youth Empowerment Academy community. In a very simple, yet impactful way, she helped student athletes (and their parents) discover belief systems that were holding them back and aught them how to develop a winning mindset where anything can be realized and accomplished.
Another way is to pray. While praying will never guarantee a win, it will provide a path to victory in your life (on and off the field).
As you pursue your higher calling, whatever you do, whatever you play, whatever you study, work at it with all your heart.
So yes, you should work on your test scores with the same dedication as your tennis strokes.
Combining my youth ministry and educational consulting experience, I guide students to connect higher education with God's calling.