College admissions are changing because of coronavirus!
Amidst all that is happening, I can’t help but think about the seniors right now. Those who are gearing up to begin this exciting, slightly daunting, and the long-awaited new phase of their lives that is being hindered by the coronavirus. Graduation is supposed to be a celebration of all you have accomplished but is now one more thing that will likely be stripped away because of COVID-19, reminding us yet again of all we are missing. Whether graduation is virtual or not, the next step in these students’ lives is immovable by corona: college. But how will the virus affect the college admissions process?
Colleges will likely:
- Reduce the weight of the grades that were impacted by corona (second semester of freshman/sophomore/junior year, or from January-June 2020).
- Be more understanding of weaker grades in the spring semester of junior year due to the unprecedented stress of applying virtually.
- Focus on the first semester of senior year more closely.
What will be more important is your essays, your first semester of junior year grades, the level of courses taken (AP/intensive vs. regular), and the alumni interview. What will become less important is your second-semester junior year grades, AP exams (since test dates have become few and far between), recommendation letters, and your SAT and ACT scores. What will remain just as important as it was pre-coronavirus is your extra-curricular activities, your demonstrated interest, and your grades from all other periods that weren’t affected by corona.
Familiarizing Yourself with the Colleges
Some students have been accepted to colleges already, but for those who are experimental decision-makers, the process just got a whole lot harder as the virus makes visiting impossible. Dedicating your time to trek to a college signals your interest, but various colleges have worked hard to make sure that prospective students can still demonstrate their interest in another format. They organized virtual tours as well as chats with current students to get to know the kind of community that inhabits each campus. Since they understand that the process has recently become much more difficult, most have extended the decision deadline from May 1st to June 1st.
This may open up an opportunity for students who are very interested in a college to demonstrate their interest by reaching out and asking how the admissions process has changed, or remind the admissions board that they’re still very interested. In these highly uncertain times, checking in can’t hurt, but make sure not to bombard them during this stressful time. Wait for the initial chaos to die down. Students should make sure to visit in the fall (if possible) and attend online events.
It is projected that most colleges will only go test-optional for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. Some colleges that were already dubious about the significance of testing as part of the admissions process are going test-optional for longer periods (three years being the most common time period). Test-optional means that if you have a strong SAT/ACT score you may submit it, but if you choose not to submit your scores for any reason the student won’t be penalized for it.
Will Admissions Get Easier?
Unfortunately, not at the most selective schools. Since they are provided with less information on each student, the selection process will likely become even more random. If you are applying to more selective colleges, make sure to place your eggs in numerous baskets and apply to a wider range of colleges. However, for nonselective schools, the admissions process will likely get easier since the addition of the test-optional policy will increase the number of qualified students.
Additionally, more applicants will be placed on the waitlist due to the uncertainty of these very strange times. If you are a student who can afford to pay almost or all of the tuition, it’s likely that you will be accepted off of the waitlist. Consequently, if you are on the waitlist and require financial aid, colleges may choose not to grant you admission.
It is important to note that if you have already received financial aid, colleges will not revoke what they have already given you. But students seeking financial aid now should expect delays and quite likely, less aid than requested. Colleges are also feeling the effects of the economic turmoil and as a result, will have less money to offer. On the flip side, if you can pay in full, make sure to reach out to colleges that waitlisted you and remind them that you are still interested.
As of now, more than a hundred colleges’ admission offices haven’t released their decisions (this is normal as regular decision day would be May 1st), and there should be no delay. More than 95% of colleges have already made their decisions but are waiting to fill those last remaining places. Colleges plan to be open in the fall (including summer orientation) but there are risks that jeopardize this plan. The second wave of the virus could occur in the fall, or the current wave might not resolve itself until late summer. If this happens, colleges are much more likely to postpone than move to online teaching. For this reason, it would be beneficial to ask for a gap year (if that’s something you’re interested in) as soon as possible. If too many students start asking for a gap year, colleges will be less likely to approve your request the longer you wait.
Although the college admissions process and college experience will undoubtedly be affected in countless ways by the coronavirus, there are many ways that students can still demonstrate their commitment to a college. Attending online courses, reaching out to the admissions committee, and finding ways to demonstrate your resourcefulness while in quarantine are ways to ensure that you stand out to the college of your dreams.