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Pandemic Pandora: College Admissions During COVID

Highlights from Expert Series

The following article shares highlights and insights from one of our Expert Series events, which are exclusive for Young Scholars and their parents.

An attempt to, in 45 short minutes, summarize what has changed in terms of getting ready for, getting into, and getting the most out of college amid the last two COVID-affected admissions cycles. The presentation will cover the areas of:

  • Choosing a school
  • Getting the most out of tuition
  • Anxiety and ownership
  • Doing the right things along the way, and, of course;
  • Getting in.

Through a mix of professional anecdote, current scholarship, and, hopefully, a little sense of humor, Keith Berman, a Certified Educational Planner since 2006, will try to give parents a way to approach the changing world of placement and admissions in a way that focuses on what is genuine to each respective Young Scholar.

In the end, the hope is that Young Scholars and their families will focus on what truly reflects their own passions, the ultimate in terms of both readiness and admissions, without getting hung up on endless cycles of competition. The hoped-for takeaway will read like a mission statement:

If I choose the right program, education and college for me, I know I will get the most out of the expense of tuition, both in terms of time and money. If my choices authentically reflect my passions, I am much more likely to take ownership and initiative. This includes engaging in reading, activities and opportunities that match my aspirations.

Ultimately, college admissions officers will recognize that I genuinely engaged in both self-improvement and the betterment of my community, seeing it in all my recommendations, activities and essays. This makes me most likely to get ready for, get into, and get the most out of college.

Tips for College Planning with Your Child

1. Choosing a School

Who Goes There: Peers

  • Use Common Data Sets to figure out who has been taken in the past and to assess peers
  • Review NBER research as well to understand the historic populations of schools

Factors that Truly Differentiate Schools: Focus on the Green Factors

  • Avoid red factors like where you enjoy visiting, where your friends are, school size and student-to-faculty ratio, instead focusing on:
  • Liberal arts or national university
  • Religious affiliations
  • Women’s colleges
  • Particular departments and career aspirations
  • Research opportunities and summer internships
  • International travel opportunities
  • Music and the performing arts
  • Don’t forget specialty schools, like communications colleges, engineering schools, conservatories, military academies and women’s colleges, among others.


2. Getting the Most out of Tuition

  • Take a look at the Georgetown study that attempts to capture the return on education by major
  • Review Hoxby’s research on selectivity
  • Always look at campus research institutes
    • Websearch “[SCHOOL NAME] Research Institutes”
  • Campus hiring and entrepreneurship resources on campus vary widely, so always seek them out, even on tours
    • Websearch “[SCHOOL NAME] Career Services” or “[SCHOOL NAME] Entrepreneurship”


3. Anxiety and Ownership

  • Try to be authentic and align
  • Make contracts with your children, whether about cell phone usage or homework expectations, with clear rewards and consequences, and focus on those – no one wants their parents to be their guidance counselor!


4. Doing the Right Things Along the Way

  • Measure activities in impact, not hours
  • Focus on building community, not competition
  • Truly win hearts: put in real effort, not just work within what’s convenient


5. Getting In

It may help to think of admissions within simple tiers, or a series of progressive cuts for highly selective institutions:

  • TIER ONE: Rigor, grades, scores: “Some very solid stuff here.”
  • TIER TWO: Legacy Extracurricular
  • TIER THREE: Teacher and Guidance evals
  • TIER FOUR: Wow with your writing
  • TIER FIVE: Interviews


Authored by: Keith Berman, Certified Educational Planner

Bio: Keith Berman is the President of Options for College. Keith created the Johns Hopkins University’s CTY College Prep course and is a Commissioner for the American Institute of Certified Educational Planners. He has worked for Yale and Harvard in their Undergraduate Admissions Offices. Keith has consulted with the American Museum of Natural History, NYC Department of Education, Rochester City Public Schools and The Princeton Review India. He was the Director of College Guidance at the Rudolf Steiner School and Yeshiva University High School for Boys. Keith has led admissions programs at Columbia, Harvard, MIT, Wesleyan, Cal, Emory, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, NYU, Merrill Lynch, Ernst & Young and more. He is frequently quoted in US News & World Report, Boston Globe and others. Keith has a BA from Yale, and education degrees from Harvard and Bank Street. He won Harvard’s Roy E. Larsen Award, a New York City Teaching Fellowship and a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation scholarship


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