By Anne Huntington Sharma - HLC President

This has been a very challenging school year for students, with so much uncertainty creeping into day-to-day routines. Although it may feel like our lives have been put on hold, it’s important to remember that the college admissions process is still in full swing. If your student is applying to college this year, don’t let the COVID slide impact any opportunities.

New data is coming out every day showing that our children’s education has been profoundly impacted this year by the move to online learning - and not in a good way. GPAs have slipped, failure rates are going through the roof, and learning loss is rampant. Many students haven’t been able to dedicate time or attention to studying for standardized admissions tests, and many who had planned to take one have found themselves faced with test-date cancellations. 

Low (or no) test scores, lower-than-hoped-for GPAs, and the day-to-day stress of the pandemic are all contributing to a very challenging time for students when it comes to the college admissions process. If your student falls into any of these categories, it’ll be more important than ever to lean into the supplemental areas of the applications in order to build a strong case for your student. 

College admissions representatives are telling us that while grades and standardized test scores are still important (and if your student has high grades and test scores, they should certainly highlight them in their application), schools will look more leniently at those areas. This provides a great opportunity to dedicate time to bolstering other areas of your application - including your essay, which is a critical component; personal and academic recommendations; and volunteer and extracurricular activities. 

When it comes to the essay, most students will likely be sharing the impact that the pandemic has had on them this year. It is, after all, the hallmark of 2020. Therefore, it’s critical that your student finds a way to make his or her experience stand out. Can they experiment with the tone of voice, or the format of the essay itself? Do they have a unique twist or story that will be memorable to the reader? To perfect the essay, dedicate an extra editing session or two to the process, and get a few trusted sets of eyes on it as well, to gain additional perspective. Huntington’s tutors are available to help with the essay process, from beginning to end. 

Most college applications require anywhere from one to four letters of recommendation, typically written by representatives from your school such as teachers and counselors. We recommend students put recommendation requests in sooner rather than later. Many educators are finding themselves spread thin with the demands of remote teaching, so giving them some extra time may help them deliver a stronger recommendation on your student’s behalf. This year is a great time to go above and beyond with more recommendations; so, don’t be afraid to gather one to three additional ones from coaches, supervisors at a part-time job, volunteer supervisors, etc. Anyone who knows your student well and can speak to their strengths can be an asset to their application.

While many in-person extracurriculars have largely been cancelled this year, your student can still showcase how they spent their time to positively contribute to their community, to their school, or even just to their own personal growth. Did they pursue any creative hobbies? Get involved with political activism? We encourage students to think outside the box of what “extracurricular” can mean.

Finally, it’s important to remember that college admissions representatives may look at what’s NOT on your student’s application just as much as what is. It’s very easy to look someone up on social media, so make sure that your student’s social accounts are set to private and do not have any questionable content that may give an admissions representative a reason not to admit them.

Huntington Learning Center offers a variety of services to help students build the strongest college applications possible in addition to individualized tutoring and test prep programs. Go to to learn more.