The Virtual Side of College Counseling at O'Neal

O’Neal was happy to have had the 30-member Class of 2020 enroll in 23 colleges and universities in 12 different states and one abroad. Thankfully, the college application process was complete for the Class of 2020 when the pandemic hit in March. The world of college counseling drastically changed. For the remainder of the 2019/2020 school year, all college counseling took place via Zoom. All student spring visits to a college campus were cancelled and representatives who normally visit high school campuses were in limbo. Normal planning for the upcoming new school year was on hold. Everything looked dim and uncertain. But sometimes, there is a silver lining if one looks closely.

SAT/ACT Testing
In a normal year, around 450-500 colleges are test optional in the country. This year, over 1600 colleges, public and private, as well as international, are now test optional: many of them making this a permanent decision. Students who were unable to find a location to take SAT/ACT exams now have the option to omit them as part of the college process. At O’Neal, SAT and ACT testing was facilitated for O’Neal students only. O’Neal’s entire class of 2021 has been able to take two or three exams prior to submitting applications. With this benefit, seniors are now able to decide for each college application if they want to send their scores or not. This option puts students in the driver’s seat.

Parent Meetings
All programing normally conducted face to face has now been converted to a virtual or hybrid offering. Parent meetings normally held in the evenings have been transformed to webinars. College conferences for O’Neal juniors have been adapted to socially distant student/counselor meetings with parents being present via Zoom. Parents no longer need to leave their homes when they can pop in virtually and see and hear the same information. Everything has changed, and some of these changes have proven to be more efficient and may be around to stay.

College Representative Visits to Campus
Another change to the program is visits to campus by college representatives. Over the past four years, O’Neal has had between 40-50 college representatives visit the campus to meet with students, inform them about their institution and their specific admissions process. This year, due to COVID-19, all college rep visits have gone virtual. As a result, these engagements have doubled and opened the world to students. So far this year, 101 institutions of higher learning have visited O’Neal. Not only has this helped students to explore colleges all over the country and internationally, but also an unintended benefit is that many more colleges in the US have now learned about O’Neal and the high caliber students it nurtures. “I really appreciated the virtual visits," says Emma Sager.  "As a sophomore starting my college search, I enjoyed being able to hear about so many different schools even with COVID. The online visits allowed me to start seeing what I want in a college, and I think that will be very helpful as I continue my college search process.”

Director of College Counseling Renee Ferrerio has worked with O’Neal students for four years. She starts with eighth grade students and discusses with them their course selection for their freshman year. Every year after, Mrs. Ferrerio becomes more and more involved with each student as they progress through the Upper School. When the college application process begins, every part of it is covered and uniquely monitored for the individual. “The virtual visits were extremely helpful to me throughout the end of my junior year and summer break!” exclaims Senior Reagan Adams. “Mrs. Ferrerio always kept my class up to date on things we needed to complete for the timeline she provided us. She also constantly updated us on changes that colleges made due to COVID-19 circumstances through the virtual visits and emails. Although walking into her office for questions is always my go-to, she made it easy to schedule virtual visits with her at any time.” 
With the influx of virtual college representative visits, new relationships have been formed between Mrs. Ferrerio and college representatives across the nation, enabling her to recommend more schools to students during the process. All of this bodes well for O’Neal students as they embark on their exploration of good fit institutions. 

The following schools have visited O’Neal virtually this year thus far: 

Appalachian State University
Auburn University
Bentley University
Berry College
Boston College
Boston University
Bradley University
Christopher Newport University
Clark University
Clemson University
Colgate University
College of Charleston
Colorado College
Dartmouth College
Davidson College
Denison University
Dickinson College
East Carolina University
Elon University
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Daytona Beach)
Emerson College
Emory University
Furman University
George Mason University
George Washington University
Georgetown University
Georgia Institute of Technology (Main Campus)
Gettysburg College
Guilford College
Hampden-Sydney College
High Point University
Hollins University
Hult International Business School
IE University
Illinois Wesleyan University
Lehigh University
Louisiana State University
Lynn University
Maryville College
Moravian College
Muhlenberg College
New York University
North Carolina State University
Northeastern University
Pennsylvania State University (Main Campus)
Pitzer College
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rhodes College
Ringling College of Art and Design
Roanoke College
Rochester Institute of Technology
Sewanee: The University of the South
Simmons University
Skidmore College
Smith College
Southern Methodist University
Spring Hill College
Suffolk University
Syracuse University
Texas A&M University
Texas Christian University
The Ohio State University (Main Campus)
The University of Alabama
The University of Tennessee (Knoxville)
Trinity University
  Union College
United States Military Academy at West Point
University of Alabama at Birmingham

University of Arizona
University of Central Florida
University of Connecticut
University of Georgia
University of Kansas
University of Kentucky
University of Maryland (College Park)
University of Massachusetts (Lowell)
University of Miami
UNC Asheville
UNC Chapel Hill
UNC Charlotte
UNC Greensboro
UNC Pembroke
UNC Wilmington
University of Pittsburgh (Main Campus)
Vanderbilt University
Virginia Commonwealth University
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Wake Forest University
Warren Wilson College
Washington College
Washington University in St Louis
Washington and Lee University
Wesleyan University
Western Carolina University
Whitman College
Willamette University
William and Mary
Wofford College
Worcester Polytechnic Institute

As for the Class of 2021, the first class to embark on the virtual college application process, the early decision acceptances are steadily coming in.  

“Change is hard, but sometimes change is just what we need,” comments Mrs. Ferrerio.  “We anticipate that most, if not all, of these colleges will continue their relationship with O’Neal and our students. Many would like to visit our campus face to face, but for those who are not able, the virtual option is here to stay.”

When schools return to normal operations, Mrs. Ferrerio will be able to get back on college campuses to nurture these relationships face to face to benefit O’Neal students. In the meantime, she is taking advantage of every virtual college counseling program offered to learn as much as possible. Adapting to the ever-changing college admissions landscape is challenging in a normal year. This year, changes have come in every shape and size, through which O’Neal has discovered new and more efficient ways to facilitate learning and hopes to continue with these improvements going forward.

Based off an excerpt from the article "Making Lemonade: Effective Programming Amidst a Pandemic" in The O'Neal Magazine 2020.
The O'Neal School admits students of any race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, genetic information, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other basis protected by law to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, genetic information, citizenship, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or any other basis protected by law in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.