Home Education and Careers Diocese of Wilmington Catholic school counselors provide tools, reassurance for college-bound students

Diocese of Wilmington Catholic school counselors provide tools, reassurance for college-bound students

Students are seen on the campus of Georgetown University in Washington March 20, 2019. (CNS photo/Tyler Orsburn)

High school students who have seen their educations disrupted have had to worry about more than classwork since schools closed earlier this month.

They also have had their college preparation and selections upended. But guidance professionals from the diocese have been there to help, although they say students seem to be handling the situation with aplomb.

The two main college entrance exams, the SAT and ACT, have been postponed once, and there’s no guarantee that the makeup dates will happen. Visits to college campuses, a mainstay of spring break, are now being conducted virtually. It is uncharted territory for the students and those who advise them.

“We have been proactive and given them the tools to continue to navigate their search, including utilizing SCOIR — the college admissions tool used at Saint Mark’s — exploring college websites and engaging in virtual visits,” said Jaclyn Tatnall, the college placement director at Saint Mark’s. “We also continue to share ways to prepare for standardized tests as we watch to see how the current delays unfold.”

Seventh-grader Isabel Barr, Bishop Malooly and a group of leaders from the diocese and Ss. Peter and Paul parish help break ground on a new high school in Easton, Md.
Dialog photo/Joseph P. Owens

The guidance personnel said most of their seniors have already selected their college destination. Sheila North, the director of school and college counseling at Ss. Peter and Paul High School in Easton, Md., said for those who have not, she encourages the virtual tours and to reach out to students at those colleges to help narrow the choice.

Colleges and universities around the country have pushed decision day back to June 1 as a result of the pandemic. Locally, those include Salisbury (Md.) University, and Ursinus College and Widener University in Pennsylvania. An online petition to move decision day to June 1 had nearly 7,600 signatures by noon on March 25.

For current juniors, North sent them home with some tools to help with the admissions process.

“I gave our junior students a college process packet before the school closure that included Common App prompts for the 2020-21 essays, examples of activity resumes, college comparison worksheet using the college website and virtual tours, financial aid information, as well as career exploration activities,” she said.

North added that Ss. Peter and Paul’s English teachers are helping out as well while students are home. They have incorporated essay writing and the activity resume into their lesson plans for the break.

“They will be helping students edit and have a final draft by June 1,” she said.

In addition, parents of juniors have been given a “parent brag” questionnaire that North will use for her letters of recommendation in the fall.

For those who need to take the SAT or ACT, the next dates are June 6 and June 13, respectively. Shannan Beck, director of school counseling services at St. Elizabeth High School, is encouraging students to check the College Board website regularly for any additional changes.

“I think beyond that, we are in a waiting game right now,” she said. “So much about the length of this current situation is unknown.”

St. Elizabeth does not have a specific class for standardized test preparation, but it does have advisory classes. In those, they work with Khan Academy, a nonprofit organization that provides resources for students and teachers, including standardized test prep. Beck acts as the students’ coach. It is not mandatory that students use Khan Academy, but it is encouraged, “especially coupled with other tools that they may be using at home, such as books, online test prep courses, and in-person test prep courses,” Beck said.

There is no test prep at Saint Mark’s this year, but students can take advantage of online classes, said Kris Bonitatibus, the guidance department chairman.

A growing number of institutions of higher learning are making standardized tests optional or have stopped requiring them for admission. In Delaware, those include Delaware College of Art and Design, Wilmington University, and the University of Delaware, and in Maryland, Notre Dame in Baltimore has gone that route. Among the Pennsylvania colleges and universities no longer requiring the SAT or ACT are Cabrini, De Sales, Drexel, Immaculata, La Salle, St. Joseph’s, Temple and Ursinus. Neumann University in Aston, Pa., has waived its SAT and ACT requirements for prospective first-year students in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Beck said she has not heard from any St. Elizabeth student about college admissions, but she expects to the longer they are at home.

“Students’ lives were turned upside down almost overnight, so right now they are still working through their emotions, trying to adjust to 100 percent online learning, and trying to get a handle on a new daily routine,” she said.

In Easton, North said students can rest assured that she will keep them notified of any developments that could affect their plans after high school.

“As College Board sends information to me, I update our community,” she said. “I have also set up times for students and parents through Google Hangouts where I can provide ‘live’ counseling if needed.”

Beck said that she hopes the young men and women are taking care of themselves mentally and physically, and that they are concentrating on their academics. She has some advice for those who may be worrying.

“The first thing I tell any students that reach out is, ‘Take a deep breath with me. We are in this together.’ I tell them anything I know that is concrete, and if the answer to their questions are not available, I tell them that. I reassure them that as soon as the answers are available, we will let them know.”