April 1st Update

Hopefully everyone is hanging in ok with this unprecedented scenario we’re facing with COVID-19. I’m not sure kids or parents ever appreciated the simple act of going to school as much as we do now. We are fielding a lot of questions from our students and parents and this letter is a summary of what we know directly from the sources— admissions offices and ACT/College Board— as of April 1st, 2020. These notes are aimed to help as families make decisions over the next couple months. Of course, individual situations vary, and we are happy to answer any questions you have about your circumstances.

Class of 2020

Final decisions by May 1st: While Jimmy Fallon thinks it’s pretty funny to sing about going to prom with your mom, there are some serious emotional hits happening to our seniors. For those who haven’t made a final decision on where to attend college, decisions are due for most colleges on May 1st. If this deadline poses a challenge for any reason, including health or changes in your family’s financial situation, you should reach out to your admission representatives and talk with them. While they may not push back the May 1st deadline across the board, they are human and flexible to individual situations.

Waitlists: One of the few maneuvers college enrollment managers could make on short notice is to make a quick pivot and beef up their waitlists. You may notice that you received more waitlist offers than you expected, which puts you in emotional limbo. I believe there will be more movement than normal as students and colleges make decisions under unusual circumstances this spring. So, if you are on waitlists, there are some concrete steps to take:

  • Ignore the waitlist offers and decide which college (that has admitted you) you want to attend and get excited about it! Buy the sweatshirt, signup for housing, join their Class of 2024 Facebook group, and start daydreaming about how awesome it will be to go there!
  • Then, take a look at the colleges that have offered you a place on their waitlist and decide if you would rather attend there.  If so, accept a spot on their waitlist.
  • Follow that school’s specific instructions. Some ask for additional info and some request that you NOT send additional info. Be sure to follow the directions here.
  • Let your guidance counselor at school know what you have decided.

AP Testing: By now you should have received a notification from the College Board that AP tests will be in a condensed 45-minute, online format. This has been done in the past on individual basis for extenuating circumstances, so it’s not new to colleges.  What IS new is that it will be the case for everyone this year. If you are concerned about AP credits you hope to offset college credits and or as a financial incentive in college, contact the Registrar’s Office at the college you plan to attend.  It should be able to give you details about whether it will be accepting credit from this year’s AP exams.

Class of 2021

Test Optional: With almost 4,000 colleges in the US, we are seeing changes day by day. Many that were not technically test-optional are suspending their testing requirements for the class of 2021. Just today (4/1), the University of California system suspended their SAT/ACT requirement for 2020/2021 applicants. This is big news; it is among the most dependent on standardized testing (and the only holdout requiring the writing section). Does that mean you should give up on the tests? No. These policy shifts take the pressure off our juniors given the cancelled test dates and generally crazy life situation. I believe the colleges are also trying to preserve their timeline for application deadlines. Ultimately, this is a good thing for all students.  For those who have already hit nice scores on the SAT or ACT, you can give yourself a pat on the back for being ahead of the curve on timing. For those who were aiming to take the spring tests and are now looking at summer/fall test dates, embrace this opportunity to regroup and give yourself a strong score. The best way for students to think of test optional policies is this: if you score well, it’s awesome.  If you don’t, it’s ok. So, there is only upside potential when preparing for and taking the SAT and ACT at this point.


Some high schools have indicated they will be moving to a pass/fail grading system for the remainder of the semester. Aim for Pass! In all seriousness, though, a lot of emphasis has been placed on the spring of 11th grade grades and for good reason. For kids who were looking forward to showing off an upward trajectory with their grades, this is still a tremendous opportunity. Teachers notice who rises to the occasion with online learning. They also notice who clicks on the audio for a Zoom meeting and then crawls back to bed! The best thing juniors can do right now is summon their inner strength and do the best they can under these conditions. This will be reflected in your recommendation letters and will in turn be noticed by admissions readers next year. Don’t underestimate the power you have this spring. If you were riding high on strong grades, keep it up! If you were struggling through the winter stretch of the year, use this as your opportunity without sports, musicals, friends, etc., to show what you are capable of and go the extra mile for your classes.

AP Testing:

Like the seniors, by now you should have received a notification from the College Board that AP tests will be in a condensed 45-minute, online format. This has been done in the past on individual basis for extenuating circumstances, so it’s not new to the colleges. What is new is that it will be the case for everyone this year. After hearing from a number of admission directors at a variety of colleges, we don’t anticipate any substantive changes with how AP scores are reviewed in an admissions sense for the class of 2021. In reality, this is a great opportunity for kids to prepare well (yes, it takes self-motivation!) and get strong scores! Strong AP exam scores will be especially helpful for students in a pass/fail grading situation for the spring term. If you need practice materials, let us know.

Extracurricular Activities: Try to take a deep breath. If you are a spring athlete/performer and you’ve missed your chance at this season, musical, or concert, take the time you need to mourn the loss of the season. Don’t worry about beefing up a college resume this minute.  Take this time to keep up on your school work. Colleges are looking for students who will add positively to their campus community. That won’t change in our current situation. It may mean helping with younger siblings so your parents can work, helping more with cooking, cleaning, and yardwork. It may also mean sewing masks for healthcare workers, or checking in on neighbors who might need your help. You need to take care of yourself and your family first. If you have time to learn something new, great, but we’ll worry about extracurricular activities later.

Summer Programs:

We are starting to hear the first cancellations of summer high school programs on college campuses. This is disappointing but understandable. If you were hoping for a summer getaway, you may be out of luck. If you were hoping to use a summer program to gain specific experience that might help you learn more about your academic interests, we will need to work on the fly and keep our eyes open for new opportunities to do that type of exploration. Colleges depend on summer program revenue, so I believe we’ll see replacement formatting become available over the next couple months. This is new territory for everyone and we will need to be patient with this.

Will application deadlines change for the class of 2021?

According to the directors of admission at Davidson (small liberal arts college) and UCLA (large research institution), there are no plans currently in place to move back their typical applications deadlines. This is something we will keep our eyes on, as we may be working with a condensed format for some students where they finish their testing and campus visits in early fall, then submit applications to colleges 1-2 months later.

Final thoughts (that may change tomorrow!):

The college process isn’t going anywhere. Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself and your family right now. UCLA’s Director of Admission, Gary Clark said “It’s OK to not be OK right now.”  We will be here to help in any way we can. We are fully operational via FaceTime and Zoom. For those interested in our summer bootcamp program for college application work, we are also extending the registration discount through June

Please feel free to share with friends.
“I am truly grateful to Breakaway for the second time. They helped my older son, Dan, get into Carnegie Mellon University, his first choice college. They have now helped my younger son, Alex, get into his first choice college, the University of Delaware. He is very happy and I am thrilled that he is going to the college he wanted to go to.”
Robyne L., Mother of Alex, University of Delaware