To Concord Academy’s College Counseling Office (CCO), navigating an upended college admissions process is all in a decade’s work. Peter Jennings, Director of College Counseling at CA, drew parallels between the current college admissions panic and the one that followed September 11, 2001, and which resurfaced again after the 2008 stock market crash. At these times, applicants flocked to perceived security. Current trends parallel those years: anxiety over air travel precedes a rush to apply closer to home, and applicants further emphasize college rankings. And once again, spurred by the advent of new application processes, a meta debate has arisen on the very alleged worth of higher education. “[These acts are] phenomena,” Jennings says, “[…] but not entirely new territory.”
The CCO is quite optimistic about CA students handling the halt on required standardized testing. Since long before COVID-19 hit, CA’s curriculum has discouraged students’ learning just for a test score, and with recent years’ pervasive decline in the importance of standardized testing, the CCO believes that CA students are poised to fare well. Moreover, the CCO suspects that without standardized tests to screen their initial applicant pool, colleges may favor an applicant from strong-performing “known” schools like CA, whose academic reputations boost the applicant’s credibility.
Second, on border instability and international students: For context, this year, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC) reported a -13.7% annual drop in U.S. colleges’ international enrollment, corresponding in part to decreased international application rates. With the advent of global travel restrictions, the CCO believes that domestic students may find their international competition greatly lessened. And, assuming border crossing is feasible, the CCO believes that CA’s international students, who already hold educational visas, may be preferred to first-time international applicants simply for already being in the “visa pipeline”.
Third, with losses in college revenues, the CCO is fairly certain that applicants who can afford full tuition will be advantaged at many colleges. In addition to fewer students applying for aid this year (based on the count of FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid] applications this year), colleges themselves are worried. Bill DeBaun, director of data at the National College Attainment Network (NCAN), told the Hechinger Report, “Schools are not prioritizing helping students with the FAFSA as much as they usually would because delivering basic instruction has become enough of a challenge.” However, the CCO also holds that CA students with financial need are advantaged by their knowledge of the financial aid process, and so will continue to stand out at schools where the number of financial aid students would be otherwise falling.
On any long-term changes to college applications kickstarted by this year’s application cycle, the CCO is tentative. For example, asked if colleges may upend standardized testing requirements—this year being a guinea pig, especially, due to COVID-19—Jennings did not have a firm answer. Likely, many major shifts, such as decreased dependence on standardized tests or a decreasing share of international students—the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) notes a 2.4% drop in undergraduate enrollment from 2018–2019 (also corresponding to an aging international student population as the number of older Optional Practical Training (OPT) workers increased by 9.6% in the same timeframe)—, would have been on the rise long before COVID-19 hit.
Students in different situations will be affected differently by this pandemic. In the face of the pandemic, the CCO recommends seniors consider how applicant pools at certain institutions may fall; although, it should be noted that the CCO suspects the most selective schools will enjoy similarly robust applicant pools as past years, as their prestige has historically weathered difficult times quite well.
CA’s College Counseling Office remains hopeful: “Those who are patient, who focus on love of learning, and who remember what they have rather than what seems to be missing will make the most of this trying time we are all experiencing,” it shared.