(WGGB/WSHM) -- November and December is the time for early applications to colleges and it may be falling under the radar because of COVID-19.

“The idea of going to college is one of the key stones of post-secondary experience…we graduate high school and it’s that next step,” said Zendrina Atherley, director of instruction at Phoenix Charter Academy.

With the upcoming holidays and ongoing pandemic on everyone's mind, college applications and prep may be on the back burner.

However, officials from area charter schools said right now is actually a crucial time.

“Use your resources and recognize even in this time of change and having to adapt, there’s a lot of opportunity out there for a number of paths. It might not be the traditional college experience,” Atherley explained.

Phoenix Charter Academy is an alternative option for students who have not had academic success in the past for a number of reasons.

Atherley told Western Mass News that students at their school take a course specific to college prep, but this year’s class looks a little different.

“Students would normally get to go to college visits and meet with reps, but with the pandemic, we’ve transferred that all to remote learning and online sessions,” Atherley explained.

Despite the change, students are still learning about area colleges and universities.

Pioneer Valley Performing Arts is a charter school that offers students exposure to performing arts with a college preparatory curriculum.

“Our students really get the opportunity to explore the arts in a way that they might not get to in another high school with more limited options,” said Kate Allen, school counseling department leader at PVPA.

There are many college prep resources available at this school such as application support sessions, early individual planning meetings, and classes related to the college process.

“Our twelfth graders are in the thick of their applications and we have about 14 students applying early this year, so whether that’s early action or early decision,” Allen noted.

With the emphasis on performing arts, students have a unique opportunity.

“Every year, we have a number of students that are interested in pursuing performing arts professionally, so for those students, they’ve really had a robust high school experience of not only taking classes that build their practice, but also performing,” Allen added.

Both school officials said starting early and paying attention to deadlines are key to navigating the college application process and any post-secondary education plans.

“We want to make sure that all students recognize that even in these times of distress, economic, health-wise, pandemic, you still have the opportunity and you should take advantage of those risks and those choices and get the support you need where you can,” Atherley said.

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