May College Search Guide

Lawrence University. – Courtesy Photo

The road to college

By May S. Ruiz

The last few weeks of the school year is usually an exciting time for students. Freshmen are looking forward to their last month, relieved that they are almost done with 9th grade. Meanwhile, it is a bittersweet time for seniors as they anticipate the end of their high school career and spend the last remaining weeks with lifelong friends.

However, the coronavirus outbreak changed all that. Students have spent six weeks learning from home and seeing teachers and classmates only through teleconferencing. School administrators decided to forgo all final exams and will be holding virtual commencement exercises. The College Board will deliver digital exams for three million AP students this month and if schools don’t reopen in the fall, at-home SAT exams will be offered.

As surreal as everything is, though, parents and students have to keep on track. Now, more than  ever, students need to concentrate on their studies. And it is essential for parents to provide the guidance that teachers used to offer.                       


This is the last call for your 9th graders who need to improve their grades! Make them focus on staying on top of school and homework. While they may not be taking final exams this year, their final grades will be on their transcript. Their GPA is the single most important component of your children’s college application.

If their marks are not adequate for college acceptance requirements, they need to confer with their college counselors to arrange for remedial summer classes.

Summer projects might take on a different form this year because of social distancing. They need to speak with their grade level dean to figure out possible alternatives to the usual internships. Get your children to call various local organizations and ask how they can help during this health crisis.     

Admissions officers look for students who have demonstrated sustained community service in a few well-chosen areas. It isn’t the quantity of activities but the quality that’s important – they want to gauge the depth of students’ intellectual and ethical engagement to a given cause. The summer after their freshman year is the time for your children to find activities that truly speak to their interest and passion. Let them choose one that really resonates with them which they should carry through their four years in high school.            

Given that no one can really go out partying because of social distancing, the long summer months ahead will be a great time for your children to read. Encourage them to explore various genres and different authors. At the very least, reading will help them expand their vocabulary and expose them to different writing styles. This will come in handy when they write their personal statement and supplementary essays for their college application.


Sophomore year is when your children have fully transitioned into high school. They are comfortable about how this phase fits into the whole secondary school experience. They have taken the practice PSAT, as a preparation for junior year when the results determine their eligibility for the National Merit Scholarship. They have also taken some AP tests, if they took an AP course.

Hopefully, your children have also done well in their studies, have maintained good grades this entire year, and have prepared for final exams. Admissions officers expect grades that are consistent, and if their freshman marks weren’t that great, their sophomore grades should at least show improvement over last year’s.    

Make sure your children have lined up their summer activities. While it may be difficult to find something that’s an extension or an expansion of what they did in the summer of freshman year because of social distancing, they should try for something related to it. Admissions officers want to see commitment to a particular interest and, given the circumstances, they will really appreciate your children’s effort.   


Make sure your children have registered to take all the required standardized tests for college admissions. The Cal State and UC systems are making SAT tests optional this admissions cycle but if your children are applying through early action or early decision to other colleges, they need to have taken the SAT or ACT this summer. If your children have not been notified that this requirement is being relaxed because of the coronavirus outbreak, they should call the university’s admissions office for clarification.    

Your children’s final grades are extremely important! Eleventh grade is the last complete year that college admissions officers will see on the application and they expect grades that are either consistent with, or better than the first two years’.


This isn’t the end-of-schoolyear that your 12th grader was looking forward to. There will be no graduation ceremony, a teen’s rite-of-passage that marks their first step into adulthood. I hope that your children’s school has some kind of celebration and a virtual commencement exercise planned.     

If your children are still sweating it on the waitlist of their first-choice college, they need to ensure their final grades are terrific! They should keep up with all their schoolwork and send the college admissions officers any updates on awards and honors they receive. They should ask their college counselor if an additional letter of recommendation might be helpful. Keeping in touch with the admissions office reinforces their interest in attending the school if accepted.

They should have put a deposit on their second-choice school to guarantee them a place for the incoming class in the fall. Although, if they come off the waitlist on their first choice, they will lose this deposit.

Be there for your children to support them whatever the outcome of their college application. It has been a significant phase of reaching adulthood and was a very important learning experience. In the end, what matters is not where they have been accepted; the college they attend will not guarantee success in the real world. It’s how they use their education that determines how well they do in life.

May 1, 2020

About Author

May S. Ruiz May S. Ruiz was born in the Philippines. Her mother, a school teacher, and her father, the press liaison officer for the American Embassy in Manila, instilled in their children the importance of a good education. Appreciation for books and the arts, and experiencing various cultures have been her lifelong pursuits. After college she immigrated to the U.S., where she met her husband. Their daughter has the same passion for learning and literature, and being a responsible global citizen.

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