Applying to an undergraduate programme can often feel like an arduous phase in a student’s life, even without the added burden of a global pandemic. However, this unprecedented time allows students an opportunity to seek out unique and creative ways to prepare themselves for the upcoming university application process.

In this time of uncertainty, it is important to keep up the momentum and stay focused on achieving your academic and personal goals. Below are some strategies for navigating the university admissions process during this pandemic. Rather than a comprehensive list of ways to prepare for the college applications, this is a starting point for what students can consider during their time at home.

Create a university application portfolio
You can use Dropbox or Google Drive to create an electronic portfolio to compile the various aspects you need to apply to university. Many applications require you to record all extracurricular and community service projects and hours. By tracking the activities you have participated in during high school, you will save time when filling out the actual application.

In order to keep track of your progress and performance, include copies of your standardised test scores in this portfolio and calendars of remaining tests you have yet to take.

Research universities
Create a spreadsheet and brainstorm a list of universities you are interested in attending. Be sure to include a balance of reach (aspirational) and safety (insurance) schools in the mix. Spend some time reading about the schools’ academic and extracurricular offerings. Ask yourself what you most love about the institution and why you want to attend.

Include in your spreadsheet the application deadlines, testing requirements, and choice of study at each of these universities. It is also helpful to note which platform you will use to submit your application. Schools in the United States will often use platforms like the Common Application, Apply Texas, and the UC Application, while schools in the United Kingdom typically use UCAS. Other institutions may use different online portals. Compiling all of this information together will help you maintain a sense of clarity and direction throughout the application process.

Attend virtual campus tours
Although campus visits are not currently taking place, most universities have set up virtual campus tours online. Students can take a peek into campus life from the virtual tours and ask questions via chat features. Take note of the resources available on campus including libraries, learning centres, student life buildings, dormitory spaces, and leisure or recreation centres. Remember, much of your university education will happen outside of the classroom. 

Reach out to admissions officers
High school students have the potential to make connections with admissions officers via email and phone. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them and ask meaningful questions. Admissions officers are sensitive to the fact that you cannot visit universities and meet people in person. Showing initiative and interest is a reflection of your commitment to the university.

Consider possible recommendation letters
The purpose of the reference or recommendation letter is to articulate the relationship between the applicant and their recommender, discuss positive contributions, and speak to the personality and values of the applicant. Use the summertime to draft out a list of people who could write about different aspects of your character and the various contributions you have made.

Prepare an electronic folder with your resume and list out potential areas for your recommender to speak about. Send recommenders an email notifying them that you are requesting a reference letter.

It is important to start this process early so that your recommenders have enough time to write meaningful testimonials before they are swamped with requests from many students at the same time.

Trust the process
As long as you are putting in your best effort to prepare for university, it is important that you trust that the outcome will be for the best. Offer yourself grace and understanding when preparing for university admissions by setting fair expectations and taking adequate breaks. Although applications may pose temporary challenges and distress, it is often well worth the effort.


Sana Hamirani is the National Project Manager for College Expedition USA.