What will the college admissions process look like in light of COVID-19? The college admissions process has stayed the same for over 50 years, but due to this global pandemic, many think this routine process will look drastically different. The college admissions cycle is already undergoing abrupt and frequent changes. Some of these alterations are evident in aspects of standardized testing, college applications, in-person college events, extracurricular activities, college recruiting, college tuition, and undergraduate admissions; all of these different components will affect the college admissions process.
Standardized testing is undergoing major delays due to COVID-19. The two standardized tests that are drastically impacted are the SAT and ACT, as these tests are constantly being canceled, rescheduled, and undergoing location switches. The 2020 May and June SAT dates were canceled. In addition, the ACT, June date was not canceled but the testing locations were very limited. Nick Anderson, a reporter covering higher education for The Washington Post wrote, “An estimated 1 million high school juniors are missing the chance this spring to get their first SAT score, and many others face uncertainty about when they can take the ACT”. Even Advanced Placement (AP) exams were affected, as they were taken from home this year. This was challenging for many test-takers, as they encountered difficulty with the new virtual format.
Luckily, more than half of the colleges and universities in the U.S. including all of the Ivy League institutions are going test-optional for 2021 year. Some colleges have gone a step further and declared themselves test-blind, meaning standardized test scores are not considered in the evaluation process. This makes grades an even more important factor for applicants. College essays and letters of recommendations are likely to carry more weight. Additionally, many colleges have extended their deadlines for students to decide which school they will attend and other schools have expressed that they will be flexible with students facing hard circumstances, even if they do not choose to extend their deadlines.
In addition, many colleges and universities are banning formal in-person visits, making it harder for many students to get an accurate feel for the school. They are replacing these in-person events with virtual ones such as virtual tours, webinars, meetings with prospective students, and online meetings with admissions officers.
Similarly, many high schools have switched to a virtual setting which may add to the challenges student applicants face as some students work most productively in in-person settings. With remote learning, they may struggle to stay on top of classwork, essays, quizzes, and tests, thus impacting their GPA and potentially affecting some of their college acceptance chances. Not to mention, some high schools in a virtual setting decided not to have formal letter grades which makes it more difficult for colleges to accurately make assessments in their selection process.
Furthermore, students applying to colleges face the unfortunate reality that many performances and sports events are canceled. Athletics and other events allow students who excel in those areas to have the possible opportunity of recruitment and scholarships. Consequently, college recruiting has been drastically affected. These extracurricular activities are a way for colleges to explore interests and see what you are doing in your spare time, which is especially important as most colleges tend to value holistic reviews. The fact that many sports teams, dance clubs, and even volunteer organizations are not meeting will make students think more creatively in order to build selective resumes.
One of the biggest impacts the pandemic when it comes to pursuing higher education is that it likely will result in steeper tuition rates. This is due to financial markets being down, which affects college endowment funds. That in turn will affect many lower-income families who already struggle to afford the steep college price tags. Many families, due to the financial strains from this pandemic, are also requesting more money from financial aid. Thus, overwhelming some colleges and universities who are having trouble forecasting how much financial aid to give out.
Administrators anticipate that many students grappling with financial and psychological impacts could also choose to stay closer to home, go to less expensive schools, take a year off from college, or not go to college at all. With more undergraduates sitting this semester out, and many students unable to enter the U.S., colleges and universities are more concerned about hitting the enrollment numbers going forward. Furthermore, international students, who usually pay full tuition, represent a significant revenue source. However, many of these students may not choose to enroll in colleges and universities in America next year, as many of these students have additional burdens. This further hurts colleges’ endowments. A higher education trade group, known as the American Council on Education (ACE), predicted a 15 percent drop in enrollment nationwide, amounting to a 23 billion dollar revenue loss. Even at the most selective colleges, acceptance rates have risen from record lows. Thus, students who do not need aid may have a leg up when applying to some universities given the financial impacts of COVID-19. However, there are many schools with need-blind evaluations.
The pandemic has affected most parts of the admission process, from the new widely spread test-optional policies to financial aid to extracurriculars. As college admission deadlines approach – and some have already passed – prospective students should consider the changes to the process, but keep in mind that it has affected all applicants.