The French journalist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr once quipped, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” Loosely translated, the more things change, the more they remain the same. This year was filled with unprecedented change…how many times have we heard or used that expression? Ironically, for the world of college counseling in North America, it wasn’t a year of unprecedented change…it was a mere four months. In a mere four months, my school went from 100 percent residential to 100 percent online. Our numeric grading system went on hiatus and pass/fail became the norm. We witnessed placid juniors morph into angst-ridden young adults lacking self-efficacy and wanting the confines standardized tests provided. And yet, senioritis remained relentless. Some things never change.
Counseling during COVID became the impetus for employing the growth mindset we inculcate in our students but sometimes lack in our administrative practices. We were forced to think, teach, educate, counsel, and manage differently. But our tireless commitment to helping and serving our students and their families never changed. While test-optional announcements may have buoyed the spirits of some students, the rise of mental health issues in the Class of 2021 at my school appeared to be directly proportionate to the rise of colleges/universities disavowing standardized tests to join the ranks of institutions not requiring ACT or SAT scores.
Through partnerships with other departments and innovative messaging, our counseling team became even more visible to students. We sought out the students we suspected were having a difficult time transitioning to an online learning environment as well as the loneliness and isolation of sheltering-in-place. Students missed their friends, missed their teachers, missed the normalcy and structure school provided them. In just four months, students went from comfort to chaos. At school, we could easily find students after class or in the library. In an online environment, we connected with students through virtual face-to-face meetings. Replicating the school schedule, one of our counselor’s virtual meetings took the form of simply being present while students did their homework. Students felt solace knowing they were there. The counselor didn’t engage with the students as they worked, but the students would periodically look up at the screen to make sure they weren’t alone. And if the counselor encouraged them to finish their homework on their own, the students would protest, “but you won’t be here.” Students needed — and still need — for us to be present.
Our college counseling department continued to hold student-parent workshops, albeit virtually. We were amazed at how seamless our junior parent college planning workshop, 9th-10th College Day, and standardized testing workshop went. Participation went up! Ironically, despite the change in the SAT/ACT landscape, the message in our standardized testing workshop didn’t change: research, make a plan, and prepare. We postulated about admission testing and quelled the apprehensions of the parent community. The more things change, the more they remain the same.
NACAC member Tanya Cummings is the associate director of college counseling and the academic dean at The Overlake School (WA). She also serves on NACAC’s Professional Development Committee and is a member of the International Association of College Admission Counseling’s Admission Practices Committee.