The Pandemic's Lesson of Resilience
Resilience is the new buzzword in university admissions.
And maybe it’s the key to pandemic survival and recovery, and maybe it’s a key to life. For university-bound students and families, it should be front and center as you develop your application strategy and think about the choices and decisions ahead.
Resilience is about problem-solving and the capacity to adapt. It’s easy to be glib about it -- and many podcasts are -- when, in fact, adversity is real, people adjust at their own pace in ways that are personal and highly individualistic, or, for a host of reasons, they don't adapt at all. Resilience can work like a muscle, strengthened over time, but schools are looking for evidence of how students demonstrated it during this last, most unusual, year. After all, university life is full of ups and downs, and admissions committees want students who will adjust, learn, persevere, and graduate.
Despite the changes in your school life and family circumstances, did you adapt, hunker down, do well academically, and stay sane? That’s resilience. Did you stick to your musical practice or training schedule? That’s resilience and persistence. Did you help siblings with their online courses, care for sick relatives, or help manage your household? Gold star -- those actions demonstrate caring and responsibility, and provided needed support to others so that they could be resilient. Did you take an online-course or start a project? Those are examples of resourcefulness and personal initiative.
As you consider your university applications, reflect on these experiences. The Common App’s essays and activities section are opportunities to distill winning, personal characteristics from them to show who you are, and what kind of person you'll be on campus.
The pandemic has reminded us that resilience is also important when it comes to choosing a school. The admissions process for the 2021-2022 application cycle should be less crazy than it was this last year, but the lesson remains that it is unpredictable, and that resilience -- the ability to recalibrate and reset -- can help students protect themselves against uncertainty and embrace multiple outcomes. Accordingly, an effective university list will be one that presents a range of choices and scenarios without assuming acceptance at a handful of brand-name schools. It should be guided by the concept of “fit,” and an understanding that there are numerous pathways to providing the support and opportunity that a student needs to thrive.
In case the pandemic wasn’t edifying enough, a glance at the current job market makes it clear that resilience is a survival strategy when the best-laid career plans go awry. And they will. Conventional college majors don’t ensure the direct linkages to careers and earnings they once did. Young adults are likely to hold several jobs in the space of a decade rather than advance methodically along a single, professional track. Technology will continue to disrupt and displace, meaning that skill sets will need constantly to evolve if they are not to obsolesce. The most successful students will be those who can adapt, repurpose, connect and learn across disciplines, and persevere.
In a dramatically reconsidered, post-coronavirus educational landscape, colleges and universities, like the students they seek, must also learn resilience if they are to prosper. Many of them have, providing extraordinary support to their communities during the pandemic and innovating faster and better to meet students’ needs than many imagined they could. They too must adapt or be crossed off the university list and left behind.
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