Episode Notes | Episode Transcript

Episode Notes

Episode Title: College Applications? Think Differently in the COVID-19 world

Episode summary introduction: As COVID-19 rolls and roils the globe, it is changing the US College landscape. Colleges are facing huge financial losses which could shake things up structurally. The students & families have challenges of their own which could upend their future plans.

In this Episode, we are focused on how college-bound students who plan to enter college in Fall 2021 should approach their College Applications in the COVID-19 world. It is time to re-tool your College List!

In particular, we would like to explore the following:

  • How colleges and other stakeholders are impacted by the pandemic?
  • What has changed for the future college students?
  • How can students turn adversity and uncertainty into advantage with their College Applications?

Shveta Bagade, College Counselor from Silicon Valley California will help us through the discussion and offer guidance to rising senior students worldwide.

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • SAT/ACT testing postponed & Colleges going Test Optional [1:17]
  • Increased College Acceptance Rates for Class of 2024 [8:29]
  • The prospect of fewer international student applications [11:38]
  • How to reclaim your summer [15:34]
  • Family Financial Challenges [19:17]
  • Time to Retool your College List [23:33]

Our Guest: Shveta Bagade is a College Counselor in Silicon Valley, California for the last 5 years. Shveta's students have been accepted into prestigious public colleges like the University of California colleges as well as elite private universities and liberal arts colleges.

Resources mentioned in this episode:


Email podcast@almamatters.io with the Subject: “College Lists” to retool your current college list along with your profile. Don't have a college list? We can guide you as well.

Episode Transcript

Transcript of the episode’s audio.

Venkat  0:05  

Hi, Shveta

Shveta  0:07  

Hi Venkat, how are you today?

Venkat  0:09  

I'm doing well. Thank you for joining me. Yeah, thank you for joining me today. So, think today what we wanted to talk about all this news that has been coming down our way over the last month, month and a half about COVID-19, about impacting colleges and about students, admissions. So wanted to have a conversation to make sense of those and see how it impacts a student applying for Fall of 2021.

Venkat  0:44  

And what advice or what, you know, interpretation you might have, and how they should move forward. So, that's the broad canvas of things I thought we could cover and I have a few points that I wanted to highlight and As we sort of go through those, maybe you might respond to them.

Venkat  1:05  

What do you think?

Shveta 1:06

Sounds good.

Venkat  1:12  

Cool, I think

Venkat  1:14  

I think in no particular order...

Venkat  1:17  [SAT/ACT testing postponed & Colleges going Test Optional]

I think the big, big thing I'm seeing is a lot of press about. Obviously, the SAT and ACT tests have been postponed, AP has gone online. And some of these tests are being rescheduled. But the consequence of that is I see colleges coming out and saying they're now test optional. So maybe the place to start is what is what does it mean to be test optional, and how should a student sort of applicant view this? So think about this.

Shveta  1:52  

So generally for test optional, what it just means is is just how it sound. The school can Look at your SAT or ACT scores if you have them. If you do not have them or you don't want to submit them, there is that option just to apply based on your grades, activities and your essays. So a lot of the colleges are allowing that. But if you do happen to have a score, you're lucky enough to get a test in before March, And you're pretty happy with that score falls in line with the school profile, then it could play to your advantage to submit it as a little extra plus in your corner for your application. So it's not held against you that you don't have those scores. But if you do have one and you're happy with it, and it matches the college profile, then it could play a little bit, a little an extra for you in your application. And one thing that's going to be really important is to make sure, [you know] schools all handle this a little bit differently. And so it's going to be important to understand the colleges you're applying to, to understand those parameters of how they're looking at the scores.

Venkat  3:14  

Sure. So now, there is some talk, I don't even know if it's been confirmed, there's some talk that a SATs and maybe ACTs would sort of make a comeback in some online form. Later in, in the year,  If that happens, assuming, let's say that happens. Is it a good idea for students who couldn't take the test to go ahead and take it? Or should they just let it go?

Shveta  3:41  

So I think, honestly, this is more for the students who were prepping for the March and April, May test dates for SAT or ACT. It's really going to be up to them to decide if that's the route they want to go to, and especially if they're still there are some colleges, the more selective colleges that are not going test optional, though you have to weigh that into your decision. So it's about using the preparation that you've already done. And along with the colleges you want to apply to.

And something I do want to point out is the registration for most of the testing that starts in August for SAT usually opens up in June. So it's going to be if a student's still on the fence about taking it or kind of has the mindset I would like to take it at least once to just to see how I do with the preparation they did. And it's, it's gonna be really important to kind of jump on that because there's going to be a lot more people in the same boat as you which is which was not, which is not the norm. You have the regular students that are applying that are going to be juniors in high school, and now all the seniors, the class of 2021 will be also looking for those test dates. And they're not able to at this point, College Board, which manages the SAT, they want to open extra test data, but it doesn't look like they can get the facilities to do that. So at this point, it's not looking like that and they're still exploring the online option as well.

Venkat  5:28  

Okay. Okay. So that, that helps. Yeah, I think I think that you're right about colleges, very few colleges being test optional, really, because I was looking at some 200 plus colleges earlier and only about 10% have gone test optional. So I guess if you're applying to 10-12 colleges, most likely, you know, you'll have just a handful that are test optional.

Shveta  5:52  

Yeah. It's a little bit of a strategy as well like some of the big public school systems like the University of California system, University of Texas System, they are going test optional, which is, they take, that's a lot of students that they take. So there's going to be some that are, but you're more, for lack of a better word, more competitive, more brand name colleges are NOT at this point test optional. There's a handful on that list. But at this point, you're right. All these more well known universities are just not there yet. But it is an opportunity for students that are not good test takers to kind of explore the list a little bit for those test optional schools and maybe apply to something that they probably wouldn't have considered in the past. Sure.

Venkat  6:46  

So I guess I guess the advice here is,

Venkat  6:49  

if you can take the test, I guess, right, you would probably be in a better position with that.

Shveta  6:55  

Yeah, I have. So I am within my clients. I have three categories of clients. clients that were able to take the test beforehand, and were happy with their score, clients who've never taken any of the tests. And so they've been prepping for the test. And then there's that third category of students who wanted to do better in their first go around.

So it's those two other categories, the ones who've been prepping that are in the mindset that they have said, I want to at least see how I do. And then you've got that mindset of the ones who've taken it saying, I think I could have done better, I'd like to have that opportunity to do it. So they're balancing out that along with the colleges that they are potentially looking at on their list.

Venkat  7:47  

Well, that's that sounds like a I mean, seems like a conservative plan as to, you know, if you can take the test. This is what you're saying.

Shveta  7:54  

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. But it gets tricky because it's now you're starting the school year. Again, assuming everything is back to normal, it's just, unfortunately, just another thing you have to deal with along with application. So that's where it's that it's almost more important to get that list now, kind of settled or close to being set up, then you can make the decision if you need to take the test or not.

Venkat  8:25  

Sounds good. Okay, so let's,

Venkat  8:29  [Increased College Acceptance Rates for Class of 2024]

Let's move to another topic, which has to do with acceptance rates, or administrate. So, I was looking at the 2020, class of 2024, I guess. And it seems like almost 80% of the top colleges top 2530 colleges in the US have accepted more students this year as a percentage than last year. And I guess, you know, I think by the time they were announcing these The Coronavirus impact was already being felt so, So as a result, they are all hedging their bets, not knowing how many students will come back, etc. And I'm guessing that given the uncertainty of saying this is probably going to be the case, at least for another 18 months to two years, right, that's sort of uncertainty around how many would you know, go to a on-campus study, where were they willing to go to college? So, given that, should strategies change in terms of applying to colleges for a student applying for 2021? How do you, How are you looking at it?

Shveta  9:44  

I think this gives students an opportunity to kind of maybe explore colleges that they felt were far reaches that now may become a reach or a strong or like a weaker Target not a strong or a weak target. So it gives them opportunity to at least decide if that's if they want to stretch themselves at some call application college app applying to some colleges, that really, that was not probably realistic for them in normal circumstances, so I think it does open up a little bit for students, but they do have to be a little bit careful because what they need to take in consideration is that the universities are going to have that many more people doing that, so they'll have a bigger pool to choose from.

So it always comes back to even though you might academically it always comes back to your essays and your extracurriculars being something that makes you stand out a little bit from the crowd.

Venkat 10:57  

Okay, so I mean, I guess, I think Guess Yes, they may open this, you know, open it up a little more, but that means that we're still competing with the same

Shveta  11:07  

Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Venkat  11:10  

Yeah. So everyone's got the same bright idea. <Laughter>

Okay, I guess that that makes sense. It's, it's a good, it might be worthwhile, I guess to look at the college and see if there are some things that you think you have more to offer or something special to offer, which you should be doing anyway.

Shveta  11:32  

Exactly. Okay.


Venkat  11:38  [The prospect of fewer international student applications]

Another thing I was looking at and reading, there's a big article in New York Times today about international students, rather fewer number of international students are likely to come into the US for a while. Even the returning students so they expecting some number like [25% or] so lower, you know, they're the travel bans, there's also the fear of the virus, etc.

So, you know, obviously international students are a big component in the US college system. They contribute some $40-$50 billion a year and all that stuff. So you're talking about $10 billion or so sort of just disappearing by 25% going away. So I'm guessing the question I'm leading up to is, as international students, if you're, you know, are  your chances to get in better? Are you likely to find that, again, similar to acceptance rate, Is this an opportunity?

Shveta  12:38  

I definitely think it is, because if they're willing to kind of take the gamble of any travel bans or any, you know, continue repercussions of our current situation, it could give them opportunity to get into a university that would not maybe be there in In the past, so it's definitely something to consider. I definitely would not dismiss, if, if you're willing to apply. It's an opportunity to kind of stretch yourself a little bit and reach for something that may not have been in your what you probably didn't think was in your reach before.

Venkat  13:22  

Yeah, so, you know, I think the elephant in the room really is the online instruction. I mean, it seems like you know, even for the upcoming fall semester, there's some talk of continuing maybe this online education, again, depending on what happens, but there's always this fear of recurrence or the virus coming back and as a result, having to shut down the schools again. And rather than go through all that, there's some talk of, you know, colleges saying, well, we'll stay online through fall, but, you know, come back and spring to the campus. So I guess if you're okay with online instruction to the idea that it's for some temporary period of time, even if we're talking about 2021, I guess getting into a good school, in spite of that, you know, uncertainty may actually be a good idea. Worth taking the risk?

Shveta  14:19  

Definitely, as long as that is not something that's going to hinder your desires of what you want out of going to college. That, yeah, because there's going to be more students, you're going to have another problem that there's going to be more students who are not wanting those things.

So they may be taking a gap year, or just go to a local university versus going to a school, you know, for international students’ case, across the world that or may not be willing to travel. And that also applies to this US students who apply that changes, they might stay are local and not wanting to go to that big prestigious school that they got into across the US, which then opens up again, it opens up more spots for the students. And they don't want to deal with the online because it defeats in their minds. That defeats the whole point. If I'm moving from New Mexico to New York, but I'm doing it online, I'm not getting the value of being in New York.

Venkat  15:26  

Absolutely. So, absolutely. So,

Venkat  15:34  [How to reclaim your summer]

So then kind of Let's switch things a little bit. I mean, all these had to do with the colleges. But then given you know, most students all over the world are at home. And so, summer programs have all been canceled or moved online. “I was doing a bunch of extracurriculars, I was either building houses or I was doing something in outdoors”, So all that has gone away,

Shveta 16:02  

right? And

Venkat  16:05  

what do I do? I mean, what what is a good strategy here? What advice do you have for students who are in this situation, but really, maybe chomping at the bit to do something,

Shveta  16:18  

I think you'd have to get creative with the technology that's available to you. And so, you know, some of the things that I'm suggesting to some of my clients is, you know, this is an opportunity to learn something that you've always wanted to learn, whether I'd say, you know, a different foreign language or, you know, if you always wanted to learn about coding, but you didn't want to or you want to learn about a different coding language, you've learned Java, but now you want to learn Python, or even above like c++, those opportunities are there.

And then there's an opportunity to think of how to use technology for your community. A very simple easy one is providing, providing free tutoring to younger students in subjects that you're strong at. Or if you are good at a musical instrument, you could do lessons via zoom that kind of thing or create your own like little YouTube channel.

Teenagers I think are super creative. And they have lots of technology. So they have to think a little bit out of the box and kind of take advantage of this time that they've got. And use it wisely.

It's easy to get kind of sucked up in the moment that all my plans have changed. I don't know what to do. Take it, look at it from a different angle and figure out what your next steps are. Maybe you wanted to learn how to, you know sew, and your parents have a sewing machine in the house, pull it out and teach yourself to sew, these are all things. It's about personal growth, personal development and doing things that are benefiting you. And if you can do something that's also benefiting your community in some manner. Those are win-wins. And you have an opportunity to do both.

Venkat  18:13  

Yeah, sewing reminds me, maybe you should sew masks and hand it out to people. Yeah. So,

Shveta  18:19  

yeah, anything like that I, I've suggested, I have a client who happens to have a lot of elderly neighbors. She has their phone numbers. So I said why don’t you reach out to them and ask them if there's anything that can be done for them as simple things, as taking care of their trash, or running to the store for a loaf of bread. Because they are elderly, they're vulnerable. And, you know, you're young, and able to you wear the protection and go out, you know, with the social distancing rules. So there's a lot of different ways to kind of look at that and have to remember it's not going to be your normal situation. So anything you can do that's creative, and maybe even a little bit different is just going to

Shveta  19:07  

be a good big plus on your [college] applications.

Venkat  19:11  

Yeah, I agree. I agree.

Venkat 19:17  [Family Financial Challenges]

Okay, the last item I wanted to touch on is the family finances right? A lot of things have collapsed or crashed or really come down, especially in the financial sector. losing jobs or you know, just the market or just not having the funds. So, what do you, do you think that colleges in their effort to get a lot, you know, students and compensate for the loss of students, likely to give more financial aid, do more things to help you get to the school. If you need the money, need the finances?

Shveta  19:58  

So I, I know the colleges are doing that now for the class of 2020! Okay, so I don't see that changing at all. What may change is the need-based versus the merit-based students, the merit based students who are used to getting, you know, big chunks of money, they say they may see their support going down because there's more need-based students than there were in the past. And so that would probably be the only shift I would see. And I think the colleges are really trying to go above and beyond in trying to accommodate students’ financial needs, currently. So I don't expect that to change for the class of 2021 either.

Venkat  20:56  

Okay. One last question. Actually, I promised that will be last, but not. So with your clients, the ones that are joining this fall, what, what is their mood? Like? What are the students thinking? How are they evaluating the decision to go on campus or not? Or what's going through them? Their minds?

Shveta  21:18  

Yeah, I think the mind of a teenager versus the mind of an adult like us, they're a little bit more optimistic. And, you know, they've had, the current Class of, you know, 2020, is, they've already had so many disappointments. So the ones that are going on to college and looking forward to that, this, they're still looking for that hope, and realizing, even if the things shift a little bit, they still want to go to college. They still want to start into their program.

They're ready to move on from the high school. And, of course now sooner than ever, so they're willing to kind of go through all this because they're looking forward to the next step. They're hoping that there's some normalcy that comes back. And even if it takes a little, there's a transition period, as we were talking about earlier, the fall versus the spring, right, even that transition period is willing to go through it, just to have that optimistic, something that worked towards for four years to go to college. So I think they're seeing that kind of, I think you're seeing that kind of attitude.

There are some students who are, you know, panicked, or their financial situations have changed and they have to make adjustments, but I would say the majority are probably still very helpful. there plenty of students, they're making decisions without having visiting campuses. They're making decisions without having the conversations they would like to have and They're able to say, I'm okay with that and move forward.

Venkat  23:05  

That's nice to hear. I mean, I think, at the end of the day, we all are looking for this post-pandemic world. And obviously, optimism and hope is what drives all of us. So, exactly. And I'm sure we're gonna get there. So question of when and so why we're working towards that. How do we, how do we kind of manage it?

Shveta  23:33  [Time to Retool your College List]

You know, for the class of 2021, I think this is just a great opportunity for them right now. Mm hmm.

You know, you have this new found extra time, do a little more research and look at some of these colleges. There's a lot of great colleges that are out there, that that may not be on your radar before and take a look at them and dig a little deeper and kind of let your list be flexible.

A lot of students already have in their minds that the schools they want to apply to. And those are all there, the big brand name schools, and they're all great schools.

But some of these other schools that are not as well known has some pretty impressive programs. And if you dig deeper into those schools, you'll find them and be like, Oh, I never realized what an interesting program that is or opportunities they may have.

 And it gives you that chance to kind of look, instead of just most students just sort of throw a list together, based on a little bit of research, they get to do almost like a second or third level amount of research now. And I say take advantage of that.

Venkat  24:50  

No, I think, I think that sounds very good.

In fact, what I was going to suggest is that we ask, excuse me, we ask the students who are applying For the 2021 fall semester to send us their lists along with their profile. And we could give them feedback and things to look at given this new normal that we are entering, and taking into account some of the factors we're talking about today.

Shveta  25:18  

I think that's a great idea...to get that information

Venkat 25:27  


Shveta, thank you so much for your time and for your insights, I think. I'm sure all the students and the applicants would find this extremely useful. And I look forward to talking with you some more and till then, take care and be safe.

Shveta 25:45

It was absolutely My pleasure. Thank you. Talk to you soon.

Venkat  25:46  

Yes. Bye. Bye.

Venkat  25:56  

Hi. I hope you enjoyed this wonderful conversation we just had with Shveta Bagade, a college counselor based in Cupertino, California.

These are truly very, very different times. And these times call for a different way of thinking. Your college applications should not be a business as usual application.

So to retool, and to rethink how you make your college lists, do contact us at podcasts at alma matters.io [podcasts@almamatters.io], with the subject title “College Lists”, and we can get connected and help you rethink and retool your college lists.

Thank you for listening again. And hope you enjoyed this conversation. We'll bring more podcasts to you very soon.

Stay safe, and take care. Bye bye.

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