An Independent School • Grades 5-12

By Ari Worthman, director of college counseling

Pictured: Ari Worthman, director of college counseling, and Erin Foster, college counselor.

I recently received an email from a panicked sophomore applying for summer jobs. “I’m working on my resume and realized my junior year activities list is pretty empty,” they wrote. “Will colleges think that I don’t care and that I don’t contribute to my community?”

The short answer: no, they won’t.

“Activities all over the world have been affected and canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic,” explained Lakeside’s new college counselor Erin Foster, during the Feb. 10 College Talk with parents and guardians. “Admissions officers recognize that students’ activities across the board may look very different this year and in upcoming school years. They are living through this pandemic, just as you are.”

Erin joined Lakeside’s college counseling team on Feb. 1 after serving as assistant director of admissions at Washington University in St. Louis (Wash U) where she read thousands of applications and served on the admissions committee. The last week of January, Erin reviewed her final applications for Wash U. Days later, she began meeting with Lakeside juniors as their counselor and biggest advocate in the admissions process. With Erin at Lakeside, our students and families have access to even more insights into the complexities of college admissions, especially during the last year when COVID has prompted many changes (including limiting activities, implementation of test-optional policies, elimination of SAT Subject Tests and the SAT essay, etc.).

Speaking of her last few weeks at Wash U, Erin remarked: “Upon looking at students’ applications, there was an understandable and noticeable drop in student engagement outside of the classroom — and that was okay. … When looking at students’ activities, [college admissions officers] are looking to see that they were engaged to the best of their ability within their community and within their individual context.” Erin explained how most colleges have regional admissions officers who understand the context of their area. As the admissions officer who read applications from Seattle, she knew that Washington was the first state to be impacted by COVID-19 and that this would limit students’ abilities to work, volunteer, and participate in extracurricular activities. This means that students from states with less restrictive health regulations might have stronger extracurricular involvement than Lakesiders.

At this same College Talk, Erin addressed how students could convey new interests and hobbies; she gave examples of applicants who learned a new language, who developed a love of jigsaw puzzles, and who taught themselves about the stock market. It’s also appropriate for students to talk and write about the importance of activities that were canceled. “To an admissions officer, the way a student talks about an activity [even if it’s canceled] can highlight what they might bring to the campus in terms of perspective and also highlights the way that student might contribute to the campus community.”

One of Lakeside’s strengths is a professional college counseling team, counselors who are not only familiar with colleges worldwide and with the social and emotional needs of students, but who offer an “inside scoop” into college admissions. Erin, like other college admissions officers who transition to secondary-school college counseling (as I did in 2005 after working at Haverford College), is excited to use her vast knowledge to support and advocate for students in the college process. She is also eager to build substantive connections with students, which is difficult from the college side of admissions, where contacts with students are short and fleeting.

So, as I said to the sophomore who emailed me — and to any students and families with similar concerns — don’t worry! There will be a noticeable drop in your extracurricular involvement during this pandemic. But as our new college admissions expert Erin Foster said, that’s okay.

Ari Worthman is Lakeside’s director of college counseling. Reach him and other members of the team at collegecounseling@lakesideschool.org. For a recording of the Feb. 10 College Talk, visit the College Counseling resources webpage, accessible through Veracross.