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Newsday panel weighs in on choosing college in age of pandemic

College experts offer advice for students and parents, including: How can college-bound students find the right school, and convince that school that they're the right student?

The route to choosing a college might be different this year, pandemic protocols considered.

But students can still select the school that is right for them, no matter how they decide.

That was the argument made by a panel of experts Tuesday on the Newsday Live webinar called "College & COVID-19: What students should know about the application process."

Prospective college students may not face the usual application, decision-making and financial aid processes applicants faced in past years. But that doesn't mean there still aren't ways to see a school, choose a school — or make yourself a most-attractive applicant.

As director of college counseling at The Stony Brook School, Christine Loo said: "There's even more opportunity, in some ways, in our changed world."

In part, she said, because students are actually "better able to interact with college professionals" during COVID.

On-campus visits have been replaced in most cases by virtual tours, applicant interviews replaced by Zoom or other virtual meetings with admissions advisers.

And Christopher Ruffini, assistant principal at Syosset High School, said colleges going "test-optional" — meaning applicants don't need SAT or ACT scores to gain admission in many cases — "puts weight into things that for some students really matter." Things like extracurricular activities, clubs, groups and the weight of their high school course curriculum — not just how a student scored on an aptitude test.

Prospective college applicants may be able to use that to their favor, Lockwood College Prep CEO Andy Lockwood said, because many colleges also have expanded their admissions pool this year due to the pandemic. Calling it "a dirty little secret" in the world of admissions, Lockwood said test-optional schools still often wanted to see those scores for some scholarship considerations.

Expert Patty Ziplow, co-founder of A2Z Admissions, said that although the difference between "uber-selective schools" might be "minuscule," things like how you write your college admissions essay and your profile can give an applicant a big upper hand.

Social distancing, virtual learning, family considerations and uncertain economics in the age of COVID-19 all may come into play when choosing a college now, the experts said. That makes it important to ask questions and seek guidance from both family and from experts who can help an applicant navigate the system.

Of help to prospective applicants is an online Newsday guide, offered in partnership with the AAA and Farmingdale State College, called: "College Admissions & STEAM Guide," which provides information not just on choosing a college but also financial aid, virtual college tours and fairs, worksheet assistance, esports, essay tips and more, at newsday.com/collegeguide.

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