Reimagining the Summer of 2020

Like many of you, I envisioned this summer a little differently. I’d spent hours researching the right Airbnb, in just the right location to spend two weeks with my closest friends on a writing retreat in France. Ms. Middleton was headed to Italy, Ms. Dunne was hoping to take her grandson to Ireland and Mr. Almonte had planned a summer full of travel. Needless to say, we were  all headed to far-flung destinations. 

Well…nobody expects a global pandemic to wipe that all away. Yet, here we are. And while it’s perfectly normal to dwell on what could have been and grieve what we’ve lost, it’s also time to start reimagining what this summer will actually look like. This is the task of high school students all across the world who find that their pre-college programs have moved to remote learning or internships and summer jobs are no longer in-person or are canceled all together.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to be active and engaged with the world around us. 


Now more than ever, the “self-care” feels like more than the latest buzz phrase. We recognize that students spend much of their time according to heavily packed schedules. Though being in quarantine has loosened things up a bit, it’s fair to say that even the calmest among us is feeling the stress and strain brought on by the changes in our world. It’s important to take the time to do something that makes you feel happy. This could be as simple as a daily walk (while wearing your mask) or journaling or playing a musical instrument. For Mr. Almonte, self-care means a cup of tea in the morning and online gaming as a way to stay close to friends. Ms. Williams likes  to start her morning writing what author Julia Cameron “morning pages” and trying new things in the kitchen like making fresh ricotta (it’s easy!) are bringing her joy. Ms. Middleton’s mornings include a little more shut eye and more cooking than she’s normally able to do.

This is the time to try that craft that you’ve put off because you’re too busy, or pick a book from the stack of books you’ve been meaning to read. If you have a library card, you can download books to a Kindle app or listen to an audiobook at no cost.  It’s also important to remember that when we say self-care,  we are also talking  about  taking good care of our mental health in stressful times. There may be times when the best thing to do, is nothing at all. And sometimes, that’s okay. We encourage you to find activities that make you feel joyful, even in the smallest of ways. 

Start local

If community engagement has always been part of your life or even if you’re getting involved for the first time, don’t be discouraged by the way being quarantined may have limited your options. Instead, think about how technology will make for a volunteer experience that might extend past New York City. 

We’ve always said that you don’t have to get on a plane to give back. There has never been a shortage of ways to help your community and the COVID-19 pandemic has, unfortunately, magnified the hardships that many are facing. If you look around your neighborhood or even the larger New York City community, you will find that there are a myriad of ways to get involved. Is there an elderly neighbor who needs help with errands or can you create a fundraiser to assist a local food pantry? There are hundreds of non-profit organizations out there looking for volunteers. 

Be Flexible

If you already had plans to do a pre-college program or summer camp that has moved to a remote learning plan, don’t be afraid to to stick with it! Even through zoom (or other platforms) there remains the opportunity to explore subject matter that was previously unfamiliar, deepen your knowledge of something you are already passionate about, view leadership in a new way, and engage with peers all across the country and the world. 

If you want to find an educational program to follow at your leisure, take a look at the open courseware at institutions and organizations like edX and UC Irvine Open. There are over a dozen of these kinds of programs available to students at no cost. 

Be Authentic

When college admissions reps sit down to read your application, they are ultimately looking to get to know who you are. They do this through reading your essays, letters of recommendations, and of course the transcript of your grades and courses. But when they look at your list of extracurricular activities, they aren’t counting to see whether or not you use all 10 slots provided by the Common App, nor is there a checklist of activities you must complete, rather they are looking to see how what you do with your free time complements the other aspects of your application. They’re looking for authenticity, real interests that might excite you. As you choose ways to spend your time, focus on the things that make you happy, the subjects that excite you. 

Final Thoughts

Ultimately summer planning is not about checking off a box on your applications for the benefit college admissions offices. It’s about the opportunity for self-care, self-discovery, and the potential to further your learning in a way that fulfills you. We live in a world where technology can bring us closer together, whether that’s through a class taught on zoom or 

So how is the college office reimagining our summer? Instead of the classrooms of 181 we’ll host our essay writing workshops and continue to help the class of 2021 to prepare for the fall applications virtually if necessary.  But we’ve also reimagined the ways we will spend our summer vacations.  Ms. Middleton hopes to spend more time in Long Island, Ms. Williams’ writing retreat will be at her parents’ house in Philly, Mr. Almonte is going to spend his summer writing and reaching his fitness goals.  While these may not have been the exact plans we had hoped for, we are embracing the summer for the possibility of what it could be. 

We encourage you to do the same.


Initial Tips for Juniors

When you had your family appointment and we handed you a preliminary list of colleges to consider with a bunch of other docs, the following was included. In case you missed this initial set of tips, look no further! Or, no, look further. Just look here, too. And, don’t miss these Additional Tips.

Academic Experience

  • You may not need to know your major in order to assess a college’s or university’s fit for your academic interests. Start with examining the structure for completing General Degree Requirements. You will discover that some have distribution or structured core requirements while others have a more open curriculum with very few courses required. Knowing yourself and how you might navigate an open vs. a structured program might help you choose which is the right option for you. 
  • If you do have a specific major in mind, make sure to review important details about what makes that program unique to others you might be researching. Department Websites often include research interests of faculty, multiple areas of focus or concentration within a given major, summer study or study abroad, independent study options, and more. If you have questions about the details, consider reaching out to the admissions office or directly to faculty to get your answers. Note whether applying to your major might make selection more competitive and what might happen if you change your mind.

Connecting with Faculty

  • Student to Teacher Ratio is the number of full-time or full-time equivalent* (FTE) students divided by the number of full-time or FTE faculty. If the colleges and universities you’re considering have part-time faculty who are practitioners (often key in the arts, architecture, business entrepreneurship or engineering), the contributions of part-time faculty, and their availability, may be significant as would their experience in the field. Ask questions about faculty and student interactions that go beyond just the numbers.
        * Full-time-equivalent means full-time plus the full-time equivalent of part-time (1/3 for each faculty member).
  • To learn more about interaction with faculty, consider asking about Average Class Size or better yet, ask your guide for the size of each of his or her classes in the freshman year as well as in the major. With the opportunity for smaller classes, you will have more opportunity to connect with your professors and engage in academic discussions. Of course, there may be some larger classes for some majors, but a balance of smaller classes may allow you to adapt more easily to your academic environment, even at a larger college or university. Also ask how often students utilize faculty office hours.

Support Services

  • While you are exploring how students might connect with faculty, also be sure to investigate Faculty/Staff Advising. With whom will you discuss course selections, major choices, internships, or research? When are you expected to choose your major and how are major advisors assigned? Who will be available to guide you should you have some hiccups along the way? How do students talk about their relationships with faculty? Are they mentored, nurtured, encouraged, engaged? 
  • Even the strongest of students may need to access Academic Resources on their campus in the form of a writing center, math or chemistry help rooms, or peer tutors. How does your college or university support students? If you are a student with a diagnosed physical or learning disability, you will need to register with the Office of Disability Services upon enrollment in order to receive services. Explore the resources available. Will you need updated diagnostic testing to receive services?

Co-curricular Resources

  • Colleges and universities with a pre-professional focus are not the only ones who talk about the many ways they make Practical Experience available to their students. Liberal arts colleges have specialized programs to connect students with internships, research (sometimes even in the first-year), and study abroad or domestic exchanges that enhance the academic experience and help to put theory into practice. Pursuing these opportunities will guarantee a resume ready for the job search, regardless of what you choose as a major. 
  • As early as your first year, be sure to connect to Career Education/Development, Global Programs and Centers for Research to learn more about how to make this happen. It may take careful planning to fit all your interests into your four-year plan, so it’s important to start early (it does go by quickly). And, remember that funding is often available for each of these kinds of programs even if an internship is unpaid or you are relying on campus-based financial aid and want to study abroad at an affiliated college or university program.

Success and Completion

  • The Graduation Rate is based upon a cohort’s completion within a standard of 6 years. For each college or university, these numbers are readily available in Family Connection, on College Board’s Big Future, or via the College Scorecard. Some colleges and universities may have an abundance of part-time students or students may have difficulty in getting required courses. However, even at some of the most selective colleges, there could be many reasons why students may not graduate in 4 years—professional pursuits, illness, late change in major or program—be sure to ask why? 
  • The Retention Rate is the percentage of a college or university’s first-time, first-year undergraduate students who continue at that college or university for the next year.  Generally, if a student considers transferring, it’s usually during the first year, so a high retention rate may indicate happy students.

Financial Aid Policies

  • As you research Financial Aid, there are handy tools and terms for you to learn. First, we encourage you to use the Net Price Calculator, a tool available on all colleges’ and universities’ websites, created as a consumer tool to allow families to determine a college’s cost, after taking grants and scholarship aid into account. Use this at each school to see estimate costs. Note that complicated financial circumstances may not be reflected in the NPC and may require follow up with the college’s financial aid office for a more accurate estimate. 
  • Note what kind of aid policy each college or university follows. Are they Need Blind or Need Sensitive? Under need-blind admissions, the college or university decides whether to make an offer of admission to a student without considering the financial situation. Under need-sensitive or need-aware admissions, the college or university may take the student’s financial situation into account when deciding whether to offer admission. In this case, need often becomes a factor when deciding to accept a borderline student. Though a college may be need-sensitive, this does not mean they will not admit students with need, even when need is high. 
  • Is the aid at your college or university need-based only or does it also offer merit aid? Need-based aid is awarded based on your family’s financial need. Colleges and universities with this policy determine your need by subtracting your expected family contribution (EFC) from the cost of attendance (COA). Merit aid is awarded without regard for financial need. This type of aid is usually awarded for academic achievements and/or special talents, such as musical or athletic skills. Some colleges will offer both. 
  • How effectively do the colleges and universities you are considering meet need? Generally, those with the most resources are able to meet full demonstrated need (a very small number do this with no loans), while others may only meet a portion of that need. Some may meet need of stronger students, while gapping the need of others, providing a preferential financial aid package to students with stronger academic profiles while leaving a gap in a financial aid between the college or university’s cost and how much need they will meet for other students. Use the College Scorecard, SCOIR, or College Board’s Big Future to determine the percentage of need met and average cost.

Important Resources Noted Above

The College Scorecard

College Board’s Big Future

Net Price Calculator Center

Additional Tips for Juniors

Where do I start?

We’ve heard a number of juniors asking this question, but the truth is you already have started. As you read the document entitled, “Qualities That Will Make a College Right for You,” completed your questionnaire in SCOIR, and began to discuss the criteria that helped us form your preliminary college list, you started your search process. It may feel a little stilted if you weren’t able to visit campuses before sheltering in place. Still, you already have many quality resources at your disposal. Similar to any research project, the next step may be a matter of organizing your questions and using your resources to find some answers. Think carefully about your current and past schooling situation. What value do you find in learning? Where and how do you learn best? What setting do you envision when you picture yourself in college. Who do you want to surround yourself with in college? This is the place to start.

How can I learn more about colleges and universities?

We have already recommended a few tools that you can start with: virtual tours/information sessions and guides like the Fiske Guide to Colleges and Princeton Review’s Best 365 Colleges should help you begin to gather information about colleges and universities that interest you. The virtual tours you may have encountered initially might feel a bit more generic and campuses can begin to look and sound the same. (The reality is that this happens when you visit campuses in person as well when the tour guide repeats the comment about starting a club or the admissions officer makes the same joke.) Listen for the differences as you develop the lens of a consumer evaluating the advantages, properties, qualities of each college or university you meet. What are the attributes or unique programs that stand out?

How do I demonstrate interest in a college or university?

Traditionally, many colleges and universities have measured demonstrated interest by noting the myriad ways in which prospective students have engaged with the admissions office: taking campus tours, attending information sessions, opening marketing emails, and interacting at a college fair are some examples. The fact is, for the class of 2021, COVID-19 has changed the ways in which students are able to interact with colleges and universities. Predictably, many will alter the way they catalogue demonstrated interest, or they may discontinue the practice of marking it altogether. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t continue to engage with colleges virtually. Add your name to college and university mailing lists to ensure you receive notice of any virtual programming they are providing. Then, attend those programs to learn more.

How do I investigate majors or careers?

At times, it can feel like every other student knows what they would like to major in or do as a career. The reality is that knowing is more unusual than not. And, most students are not technically undecided–they either have 5 areas of interest or they haven’t yet met the major that will capture their attention. When applying to US colleges and universities, t is okay to be undecided. To learn more about career fields consider using BigFuture’s career search or RoadTrip Nation. If you would like to explore your interests through an assessment, look no further than SCOIR where you can complete an aptitude survey on YouScience. Finally, if you know your intended major, explore that section of each college’s or university’s website where they will highlight faculty research interests, course listings, and unique department programs.

How do I stay organized?

The information you gather about each of the schools you research will not only be helpful as you narrow or expand your college list, it will be vital to writing responses to some of the more specific supplemental questions you may find on your applications (these are often questions about why you’ve chosen to apply to this college or to specific major). We recommend that you create a tool (perhaps a spreadsheet or Google doc) where you can note unique programs, capture contact information, and document the research you are doing on the colleges that interest you most. Add columns or sections to the document whether the college offers interviews, tracks demonstrated interest, conducts interviews, requires testing, has a portfolio or audition process, etc.

What’s available beyond the virtual tours?

In their April and May rollouts, colleges and universities will begin to focus more intently on their prospective students’ needs vs. the class they are enrolling for September. Keep an eye out for more innovative virtual experiences emerging in the next few months. Colleges will offer everything from big open house events to one on one communication with faculty, students, alumni, and admissions staff. Many have robust offerings on their YouTube channels and blogs. Follow other social media (through SCOIR or your insta/TikTok/facebook account) to get a sense of their vibe and community. And, through all these sources don’t forget to listen for factors that set each institution apart from the next. 

(As one example, Syracuse University has created videos on demand for STEM, Pre-Med/Pre-Health, Communications and Writing, Visual Arts, Architecture, Film and Design, Music and Drama, Policy, Government and Social Justice, Teaching and Human Services, Business and Technology, Student Panel, Diversity Session, College of Engineering and Computer Science Information Session, Whitman School of Management Information Session, School of Information Studies (iSchool) Information Session, School of Architecture Information Session, Spanish Language Information Session, Healthcare and Helping Professions, and more!) 

Search “Prospective” events here.

What questions should I ask?

Following are a handful of questions you might want to ask students, faculty, or others:

  • How would you describe your college’s vibe or culture, academically and socially? 
  • What qualities are common for the students who thrive on your campus?
  • I am interested in majoring in ____. What sets your program in this area apart from others?
  • I am undecided as to my major. How are students supported in making that choice?
  • What kind of support can I expect on your campus (this could be academic, writing, career, tutoring, study abroad, advising, mental health)?
  • Are undergraduates involved in research projects with faculty? Are there specific programs that encourage this involvement? Do students have opportunities for funded research?
  • What is the academic atmosphere on campus: is it one of competition or cooperation. Do students support one another’s passions?
  • What does a typical schedule look like for a first year student? How big or small are classes? If classes are larger, what opportunities are available for further discussion?
  • What opportunities does your campus have for research projects, internships, hands-on experiences, field study, independent study?
  • What is the relationship like between faculty and students? Do students actually attend office hours, have coffee with professors, benefit from mentoring relationships?

Set up a meeting

As always, we are here to answer your questions. Make an appointment with your counselor:

Meet with Ms. Middleton

Meet with Ms. Williams

Meet with Mr. Almonte

Calendly automatically integrates with Google calendar and Zoom. If the times listed on our calendars don’t work in your schedule, email Ms. Dunne.

ACT online testing, section retakes: A repost from Adam Ingersoll, Compass Prep

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Some of you have read the recent articles about changes to the ACT exam, so we thought we’d post the latest analysis from our friends at Compass Prep here (Thanks, Adam). Following is what they’ve sent to their own tutors and they suggested might be helpful for class of 2021 students and parents/guardians and beyond who might be asking what this would mean for them. Hopefully, this clarifies some of what you’ve read. 

For more information on standardized testing, check out the Compass Guide to College Admissions Testing produced by Compass Prep.

Online testing
ACT will make online testing available to students on national test dates starting in September 2020. Paper-and-pencil tests will not be going away, and Compass expects there to be serious shortages in online seats. Despite the name, online tests are taken on school-controlled computers in special classrooms and computer labs. It will be an intriguing option, but should not drive testing decisions. Test content and length will not change. The test will not be computer adaptive (a test-type familiar to those of you who took the GRE or GMAT in recent years). We’ll be talking more about it as it comes into focus.

Superscore reporting
Superscore reporting is something of a marketing gimmick to present ACT as superscore friendly (it has traditionally been seen as superscore unfriendly). Students will be able to send colleges a report that includes just their best section results (superscore). While this adds convenience, it doesn’t alter the superscores that colleges themselves already calculate. It is only applicable at colleges that choose to superscore, so it doesn’t change the net result for students. Some colleges that superscore may still request traditional reports, because their IT systems will need to be updated or they may prefer to receive full test dates. ACT’s support of superscoring may encourage more colleges to adopt this option, but the superscore report itself is not a critical change.

Section retesting
After students take a full ACT, they will be able to choose to retake individual sections on future test dates starting in September 2020. Section retesting must be done online. A student, for example, could decide to only retake Reading and Science. This seems intuitively appealing. Compass believes that this reaction is overly optimistic and recommends students not yet make tutoring or testing decisions based on section retesting.

Section retesting is a radical proposal that does not yet have widespread support. Among our concerns:

  1. Section retesting will not be available until at least September 2020. Online testing will not be available at national test dates until September 2020. For your class of 2021 students, then, the option would only be available late in their testing timelines. It would also require a shift to online testing after previously doing paper-and-pencil testing.
  2. There is legitimate concern that the logistics around administration and acceptance of section retests will delay or kill off this option. Students should be wary of counting on the availability of section retesting.
  3. Compass’s experience with testing is that students are not good at predicting when and where gains will be achieved across the 4 ACT sections. They often fixate on their weakest score. A superscore gain, though, can come from any section — unless a student already has a 36 on a section. Taking advantage of section retesting lowers, in most cases, students’ chances of raising their superscores. Except in special cases, Compass expects to discourage section retesting.
  4. Compass’s skepticism also comes from the fact that colleges have not weighed in. ACT is trying to assure colleges that section retest scores are comparable to full-exam retest scores. This view has not yet been accepted by colleges and, to our knowledge, not a single college has yet said that they will superscore with incomplete tests. Colleges tend to be conservative and may choose to wait at least an admission cycle. The University of California system is among the colleges that will only look at scores from complete test dates. Without a significant policy change, a section retest will be a wasted retest.
  5. Compass is also concerned about the ability of testing centers to provide sufficient capacity for online testing. Section retesting compounds the logistical problems. Students wanting to do online testing or section retesting next fall may find themselves unable to do so.
  6. ACT has introduced section retesting and superscore reporting as marketing techniques to encourage more superscoring and more retesting. At present, more than twice as many top colleges reject superscoring of the ACT as reject superscoring of the SAT. While it will be nice if this gap closes, students should not be making plans under the assumption that it will close in time for the class of 2021.
  7. If justifying a decision on SAT versus ACT based on section retesting, students should also consider that every other ACT test-taker will have the same option. We may see score inflation — or at least enough of a threat of score inflation — that colleges will take a wait-and-see approach.
  8. The ACT remains an excellent option for many students, and this set of announcements does not change that. Compass sees a 50/50 split between ACT and SAT preparation and will continue to recommend test choice based on individual circumstances and strengths.

In summary for section retesting:

  • None of this matters at all to your class of 2020 students.
  • Section retesting is not a done deal.
  • Section retesting becomes available late in the game for the class of 2021.
  • Section retesting requires a switch to online testing late in the process.
  • Section retesting relies on colleges (a) superscoring and (b) updating superscoring policies to allow for section retesting.
  • Section retesting will encounter logistical problems during its rollout, which will come at a critical time in the application process for the class of 2021.
  • Section retesting will actually reduce, for most students, their odds of achieving a higher superscore.
  • Potential gains from section retesting will be available to all students, so may not provide a net advantage.
  • Section retesting is an interesting and, potentially, beneficial concept. At present, it should be treated with skepticism.

For more analysis from Compass Prep on this topic, check out their blog And, for more information than you would ever want to know about standardized testing generally, check out the Compass Guide to College Admissions Testing produced by Compass Prep.


Spring Coffee for 9th/10th Parents/Guardians: A Panel of Experts

It’s hard to believe another year has come and gone. The class of 2019 is looking towards their next adventure and the class of 2020 spent their last day of school thinking about how they’ll begin to craft their unique stories to share with colleges come the fall. In the College Office we are busy planning welcoming the newly minted Seniors back for a series of common application essay workshops led by Carolyn and Khaliah. 

While we hope your summer is off to a good start, we want to share some advice with you. For the last two years the BC College Office has run a series of morning meetings over coffee with the parents of 9th and 10th graders. Each time, we’ve sought to change the format for our time together so that we approach the college process from a myriad of angles. Back in May, we hosted a panel of college admission experts to share their first-hand knowledge with the BC community. 

We invited our in-house experts, Eugenie H. and Maddie E. to talk about their experiences over the past year. They were open and honest about the natural ups and downs of the college admissions process, how to deal with parents, and the value of working closely with their BC counselor. 

Our college experts, Darren Drabek (Lake Forest College, IL) and Sarah Vallancourt (Barnard College) traveled from near and far to offer their perspective on (among other things) the changing tides in college admission and the purpose of an applicant’s essay. 

Lastly, we wanted to be sure that we included all the voices in the college conversation. Dr. Felicia Eve, mother of Michael ‘17, Madison ‘19, and Maxwell ‘22, has gone through the college process twice, and was able to offer her valuable insight on best practices for parents approaching college admissions. 

We hope that the knowledge each of our experts have shared helps deepen your understanding of what the college process can look like for an individual student, family, and post-secondary institution.

You can hear what our panel of experts had to say by clicking on this link.