• Dr. Thom

The 2020 College Admissions Thanksgiving Gratitude List


Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

Thanksgiving is one of our family’s favorite holidays. Of course, there is the food, the parade, the Westminster Dog Show, and football to enjoy while in and out of a late afternoon nap. But really, it’s the idea that a whole day is designated to celebrate gratitude for hard work and bounty (the harvest) of the year by spending the day together with family. We love it so much, it stretches into the day after Thanksgiving, when our house is filled with the smell of a traditional turkey gumbo cooked slowly using the delicious leftovers from the feast.


There will be plenty of time for analyzing how very challenging 2020 has been for so many people, including our family. But, Thanksgiving calls on us to acknowledge the depth of our blessings, even amidst a year like 2020. For us, we have seen a year like no other, with the GEC family growing beyond any of our most audacious dreams. We are now working with families across four countries, five time zones, and six states in continuing our mission of helping young people discover what inspires them without sacrificing their health and happiness.


In college admissions, there are SO many things for which we are thankful. Here is our top list of happenings and trends for which we are thankful in the world of college admissions and financial aid. These are things we can all celebrate:


The Test Optional Breakthrough


At the time of this blog post, more than two-thirds of four-year colleges and universities have opted for a temporary or permanent removal of SAT/ACT testing requirements in their admissions criteria. Not only is this an important development for broadening access to higher education, it opens the door to a more open dialogue among educators on how we can collectively rethink how we structure the high school to college transition. This movement towards a removal of standardized testing as a kind of grand sorting hat for colleges is VERY good news for the tens of thousands of students, parents, educators and policy-makers who were growing ever more concerned with the effects of high stakes testing on the well-being of our young people.


Colleges Continue to Lead the Way on COVID Response


While there have certainly been a number of examples of college communities that have struggled to find their way in the era of COVID-19, by and large, we have seen a phenomenal response from colleges who continue to show us how powerful active leadership and a “we over me” approach to dealing with challenges can really be. Take “The Shield Program” at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that tested 10,000 people a day, and a total of hundreds of thousands of rapid COVID tests since the beginning of the Fall 2020 semester for example. Or look to the example of Grinnell College in Iowa who just this week announced it was eliminating all loans from its financial aid packages as a response to the COVID pandemic. What amazing leadership. Or perhaps look at Rice University’s COVID Community Court, a student-run disciplinary body which acts as a means of enforcing peer-to-peer responsibility to help curb the pandemic. There are simply too many positive and proactive examples to name.


We are thankful to the professionals and educators at these institutions for yet again showing the way forward for our communities and indeed, our country.


Online Education is Getting (a Little) More Engaging


During the Spring of 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges and high schools truly struggled to find the right balance between safely distanced and highly engaging educational material. As the fall has progressed, we have seen modest growth in innovative methods of engaging learners from home. In a recent survey, 48% of college students indicated they lacked regular communication with their professors, down from 53% from the previous spring semester. I know it’s still too high, but in 2020, I’ll take it.


Gap Year Has its Moment


A gap year is a one- or two-year learning intensive break typically when high school graduates can travel, work, and study before continuing on to college. At the University of Pennsylvania, the number of students taking a gap year this year increased 300%. At Williams College in Massachusetts, nearly 25 students deferred their admission in 2019. In 2020, 95 students did.


With our role at GEC, we are big fans of gap years as they encourage the student to think deeply about how they want their education to unfold, rather than simply following the default path. While certainly not for everyone, gap year experiences can be life-altering experiences ranging from discovering new talents, to adopting a more cultured perspective on the world around them, and even to simply introducing a well-deserved break to a worn down student. Yes, it is true that 2020 and the COVID pandemic has introduced many challenges, but we are excited about this increase in gap year popularity.


We Are Thankful, Even in 2020


So as you prepare for this coming week of Thanksgiving, we are hopeful you won’t be thinking about college (just for a little bit). For our family, we continue to find so much in the field of college admissions and higher education for which to be grateful. The most important is you, our client families, students, educators, and community supporters. Thank you!


Not working with us yet? Feeling stressed by the college search process? Let's chat.


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