Norfolk Academy Upper School students are gaining a valuable boost in the college application process, thanks to one-on-one attention and some popular initiatives the College Counseling Department created for this most unusual year.
Academy students annually gain admission into a wide variety of outstanding colleges and universities across the country, including Ivy League and military service institutions and Virginia's public flagships. Two members of the Class of 2020 earned UVA's premier Jefferson Scholarship, while another earned UNC-Chapel Hill's prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholarship. Other members landed at Yale, Georgetown, Stanford, and the United States Military Academy, just to name a few.
However, the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic required College Counseling to adjust its traditional approach to the fall college visit experience. What emerged was a series of virtual gatherings that gave current students the same access to colleges and college admission officers that alumni enjoyed.
During a typical fall, more than 100 colleges and universities send representatives to the Academy campus. Gathering either one-on-one or in small groups, the visits allow students to network, ask questions, and learn about institutions they might want to attend.
Amid the pandemic, though, many colleges have cut their travel. And to prioritize the safety of its entire community, Academy decided early on not to allow visitors to campus on school days.
College Counseling wanted to keep the visits coming, however. For juniors they are an invaluable way to explore college options. For seniors they are a great chance to re-connect with the schools on their list, while also making an impression on some of the people who will review applications.
Virtual visits allowed college representatives to Zoom into small group sessions through much of the fall. Usually lasting about 45 minutes, the sessions included introductions, presentations from the representatives, and questions from students.
The virtual visits began in early September. The list of participants included UVA, Virginia Tech, William and Mary, James Madison University, the United States Naval Academy, Dartmouth College, and several dozen other stellar public and private schools.
Student engagement was strong, with most juniors attending at least one visit. The visits took place during the middle of each week, at times that didn't conflict with Upper School after-school activities. (Throughout the fall, Academy has offered athletics and fine arts activities, in which hundreds of students are participating. And during a ceremony in mid-November, 11 student-athletes signed their commitments to play college athletics.)
Because the visits were on Zoom, even students choosing Norfolk Academy's Distance Learning model, an enhanced program the school is offering amid the pandemic, were able to attend.
Shortly after the virtual visits wound down, College Counseling led a two-day virtual College Admission Workshop for the Class of 2022. College admission partners from William and Mary, Georgetown, the College of Wooster, Davidson College, and the University of Colorado at Boulder were among those who took part. Sessions included discussions with the guest faculty, introductions to a variety of admissions tools, and assignments that will help students prepare for their next steps in the college admission journey.
College Counseling will hold additional family meetings with juniors and their parents over the next few months. That's on top of the one-on-one meetings that counselors have already been having, when they get to know students and help them determine their options for higher education.
During the pandemic, the college application process will continue to be atypical. Colleges are making changes that will impact college-going students for years to come.
Mrs. Jennifer Scott, Director of College Counseling, advised students to keep an open mind as they go through the process and to remember that students, parents, teachers, and counselors are all in this together. An evolving college admission process is not new, and while the current landscape requires creativity, flexibility, and patience, Academy is finding new ways to help students achieve success.
Students should be active participants in their own process, attending virtual admission programs for any school they might want to explore. They should also communicate openly, asking lots of questions.
“We were thrilled with the success of this year's virtual visit program," Mrs. Scott said. “It was a wonderful way for our students to connect with colleges at a time when in-person visits are difficult. They were also a great way for our admission partners to learn about all that is going on at Academy during this, the Year of Courage."
To learn more about Academy's College Counseling services, please visit their webpage.