After Maine’s school districts announced in mid-March that schools would be closing until further notice, thousands of juniors and seniors preparing to begin or complete their college admissions process were left in limbo.

Doug Dumont, Aspirations Coordinator for Lewiston High School Submitted photo

Virtual technology has helped most guidance counselors and departments stay in touch with their students throughout the closures, though some have said that e-mail and Zoom has its limitations.

Aspirations Coordinator Doug Dumont, who helps oversee 1,500 students between Lewiston High School’s junior and senior classes, said that Lewiston has been able to acclimate to the school being closed by relying on e-mail and Zoom, a videoconference application similar to Skype.

“We’ve continued meeting and talking with students by using virtual technology, so we’ve been able to navigate the new normal,” Dumont said.

Mary Beth Galway, chairwoman for Edward Little High School’s guidance department, said that in lieu of in-class presentations, counselors filmed videos to help disperse information.

“Our post-secondary presentation for juniors and parents was delivered via mini videos,” Galway said. “We introduced ELHS to our incoming 9th graders via video. We push e-mails out constantly. We post to social media. We regularly send a ‘check-in’ to our students to see how their week has gone, what questions they have, and how we can help.”

Galway said that each counselor has their own method of responding: some respond individually to students via e-mail, while others post video messages to social media.

She said that many of the counselors in the ELHS guidance department attend Zoom meetings and webinars on new information about “tweaked graduation requirements, college requirements and SAT scores… so we can share with students, parents and staff.”

The only problem with virtual technology? According to Dumont, there’s no way for counselors to confirm that the students are receiving the information that the department sends out.

“Before schools closed, we were able to track down students in the hallway or classroom and double check,” Dumont explained. “Now, we can’t guarantee that students have internet at home or can access the information we’re sending.”

At Saint Dominic Academy in Auburn, Peggy Deblois, who serves as college advisor for all students, said that the stress level of the juniors and seniors has been “pretty high.”

“This is the time of year when (seniors) are wrangling with commitment decisions, financial aid packages, figuring how how they’re going to pay deposits,” Deblois said. “I think a lot of students and parents are very nervous, and rightly so, because it’s difficult to write a check when you aren’t even guaranteed that campuses will be open in the fall.”

Deblois said that one benefit that St. Dom’s has over some other schools is that it considers itself a “college preparatory high school,” where “the entire staff works with students and families from the beginning of freshman year to prepare them academically and emotionally for college.”

“Even before schools closed, we made sure our students were prepared in advance,” Deblois said.

Deblois said that she oversees 43 juniors and 37 seniors, and that she tries to meet 1-on-1 with everyone via Zoom as often as she can.

She added that some colleges and universities have resorted to holding “virtual college fairs” for juniors and seniors, including Emmanuel College in Boston.

“Usually, colleges will send people directly to the school, but this is the first time I’ve seen a school invite students to a virtual fair,” Deblois said. “More than half of the junior class showed up to it, which is amazing.”

Dumont said that the lack of face-to-face interaction has made it more difficult to discuss complicated issues, such as financial aid awards and packages.

“One of the things we do with seniors each year is sit down with students and their parents and go over financial aid packages for each school,” Dumont said. “It’s so much harder to talk about these things over e-mail or Zoom. Some things are better explained in person.”

Galway said that she and her counselors also miss “not being able to physically see and connect with our students.”

“We are in this for the students and not being able to be with them is incredibly heartbreaking,” Galway said.

Deblois agreed that virtual technology, especially e-mail, has its limitations.

“I typically meet 1 on 1 with each student, so even 1 on 1 virtually works,” Deblois said. “What worries me is when a student uses e-mail to ask me questions about financial aid or scholarships. E-mail works for certain questions, but when I hear more complicated questions, I tell (students) we need to have a call.”

Dumont said that even after schools reopen and states begin relaxing social distancing restrictions, the college admissions process for juniors applying for college in the fall of 2021 will look “remarkably different.”

One major change is the choice by some colleges and universities to make SAT scores optional when applying.

According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, more than 1,100 four-year colleges and universities have instituted SAT-optional policies for fall 2021 admission, including more than 400 of the nation’s top-rated schools.

“Many colleges, in light of schools closing, have made SAT scores optional for students’ college applications,” Dumont said. “That’s huge. That means the admission process for schools will be even more competitive, since they won’t have SAT scores to rely on.”

Deblois agreed with Dumont, adding that she told the class of 2021 that SAT scores being optional for some colleges “offers a different sort of opportunity.”

“My experience has shown that a student’s academic ability and readiness for college does not always translate to their SAT score,” Deblois said. “Now, students will have to decide whether they take the SAT’s in the fall or look at a school that took the scores out of the equation for 2021.”

Several e-mails and phone calls were sent to the guidance departments of Leavitt Area High School, Poland Regional High School and Hebron Academy on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but none responded by deadline. Stephanie Goss, director of guidance at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School, elected not to participate in this story.

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