Quarantined Teenager Stuck in the House? 8 Things to Do for College Now

What I’ve heard from many of my mom-friends is that no one is actually fearful of the coronavirus itself. But many are understandably panic-stricken at the thought of two weeks with a quarantined teenager in the house. Given that we’re now dealing with a school closure here, I thought I’d share what I’d try to do if I had high school juniors or seniors in the house.

I’m going to guess none of us has actually been through a quarantine before.  We may have been snowed in for a few days or the flu may have kept a kid at home for a week.  But in either of those scenarios, said kid was either entertained with wintry outdoor activities or sick on the sofa.  Two weeks stuck inside with a perfectly healthy kid and no help from mother nature on the entertainment front is an entirely different story. 

quarantined teen

The boredom meter might actually rise high enough to WANT to fill the time with semi-structured activities that could help with the college search and application process.  Here’s where I would begin:

‘Semi-Structured’ Activities

1) Get off TikTok and Snapchat and actually use the internet for something productive. Instead of randomly typing in the websites for college, use some well-researched tools that can help you explore your interests. Learn more about great options you never knew existed.  Here are a few of my favorite online college search tools:

Big Future: This is College Board’s popular search tool used by many high school counselors across the country.  You can filter your searches by a number of different variables (like location, majors, selectivity, etc.) but you really have to have a base understanding of what you might be interested in to begin with. You’ll have access to tons of concisely presented data about various colleges through this website.

Scoir: Scoir is a super thorough and comprehensive resource that takes you from nuts and bolts all the way to a finished product.  You really don’t even have to know where to begin.  This website helps you learn more about yourself before you even start answering questions about what type of school you want or what you want to study. Unlike many other search tools, it takes you through to the point of career exploration and not just college exploration.  In a sense, it works backwards from where you want to land AFTER college and helps you map out a path to get there.  Because it’s so comprehensive, though, it takes a little longer than most.  Here’s where a two-week quarantine could come in handy.

SCV Journey: Shameless plug here for the company I work for, but Smart College Journey offers very user-friendly college search tools AND assistance with planning your college visits.  Need even more help and personalized recommendations?  SCV Journey even offers a personal concierge service if it gets a little too overwhelming on your own.

Honest Assessment

2) Do an honest assessment of your own academic record.  If you’ve never seen a copy of your high school transcript, get one.  Lucky for you, many schools have a way to access this online now.  If not your actual transcript, you should at least be able to access a record of your end-of-year grades for each year.  Once you have it, don’t focus on your GPA.  Schools calculate GPAs in very different ways and admissions people realize this.  Instead, look at the big picture. 

RELATED: Using Telemedicine to Help A Sick Student

How many C’s do you have?  You’re going to need to own those C’s and realize that too many of them will limit your options.  Have any D’s or F’s?  Then you have more significantly limited options. Do you have any advanced courses (AP, IB, dual enrollment, etc.)? How many and how did you do in those?  Do you want to be an engineer but just realize you have never made an A in math?  We need to talk.  Do your grades over time show an upward or downward trend?  That can matter.  My point – look at your transcript as if you’re the admissions committee. 

Scheduling Testing

3) If you’re a high school sophomore or junior now is a great time to sign up for the SAT or ACT. Well, maybe don’t sign up for the April or May tests because…..coronavirus.  But do consider going ahead and registering for any standardized tests you plan to take.  Registration deadlines have a tendency to sneak up on you. So just go ahead and get this “to do” item done.

Prepare for Testing

4) In light of completing #3 above, how about passing some time by actually preparing for those tests?  Both the SAT and the ACT offer readily available online test prep.  For ACT, my advice is to access a full-length practice ACT test and complete it.  They also offer various packages test prep, but those packages are costly.  For the SAT, you really MUST try out Khan Academy.  It’s free and amazing and any amount of time spent on it will not be wasted.  You lose your right to complain about your SAT score or about being a poor test taker if you have not spent some time on Khan Academy doing the SAT prep.  Seriously, what else do you have to do with your time in quarantine???

Get Creative

5) Who doesn’t love to write in their free time?  OK, don’t answer that.  I taught AP English once.  I am fully aware that many teenagers do not, in fact, love to write.  But guess what?  You have to do it on your college applications and it’s arguably one of the most important pieces of writing you might ever complete.  Even sophomore year is not too early to start thinking about what you’ll include in your essays.  I’m not talking about the exact essay, but rather broad brushstrokes of what makes you, well…you. What life experiences will you use to help frame your responses? Use your quarantine time to read through the Common Application Essays.  They don’t generally change dramatically from one year to the next. How would you respond? 

If nothing else, simply taking the time to read the essays and THINK about them will help you in the future.  Future moments that could have passed you by in the past might now trigger something in your brain that’s like, “Hey – I think I could use what happened tonight on a college essay.  I’m going to jot a few things down to help me remember some of the details for later.”  So, take the time to read the essays now so you’ll have an idea of what’s coming. Be more attuned to recognizing some of your experiences that will feed well into a compelling response.

Find Your Fans

6) Start thinking now about who will write your recommendation(s).  As a former teacher who was asked to write tons of recommendations, let me give you some advice.  Do not just stay after class one day and say, “Ms. Teacher, will you write me a recommendation for college?  OK, great. Thanks!”  First, she’s likely to forget.  Second, that’s unprofessional – your manner of request, not the forgetting.  Go ahead now and create the template for a written request for a letter of recommendation.  You can fill in the exact college and instructions later, but for now you can go ahead and get the shell of the request completed. 

Along with the request, include what quality you want the teacher to highlight.   It was so appreciated when students would give me a request that included suggested content like, “I’d like you to focus your letter on my willingness to help others in the classroom.  Remember that time when I finished my lab early and used the rest of the week to help the kids who had fallen behind?”  Think strategically.  Your grades already speak for themselves.  You should pick a teacher who will be able to speak positively and honestly about a particular quality you possess that is not otherwise highlighted in your application.  Need even more direction? There are some great resources with additional advice about the letter of recommendation. 

Future Visit Planning

7) Schedule a “test-run” college visit at a college near your hometown.  Understand you won’t be able to actually conduct the visit during the corona quarantine, but you can at least get online and schedule a future visit.  Most colleges offer information sessions (by admissions professionals), a campus tour (from a student), and sometimes additional sessions from academic departments or Honors, etc.  Check out the visit process for your local college and sign-up even if you’re not interested in that school.  It will give you an idea of what to expect when you begin your visits to the schools that really are on your list!

Résumé Building

8) Create a résumé.  I’m hoping one of your English teachers already made you do this as part of a practical writing exercise, but in case you haven’t actually created one then doing so would be a fabulous use of your quarantine time.  There are tons of examples online.  Heck, even Word has templates you can use.  Just take the time to do it!

Hopefully these activities will take you through at least about Day 8 of your quarantine.  Parents, you’re welcome.  Students, you might thank me later in the fall of your senior year when you realize you’re way ahead of (and less stressed) than your friends!  I’m OK with delayed appreciation.

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