How Will COVID-19 Shift The Landscape Of College Admissions?

Lyn Jutronich

College admissions is already pretty stressful for most parents and students.

Let’s throw in a global pandemic, distance learning, no SAT or ACT testing for the past nine months (depending on your home state), and colleges flopping back and forth on whether they will require and/or consider testing anyway.

Now it’s a party!

How Will COVID-19 Shift The Landscape Of College Admissions?

It Won’t Be Harder or Easier for You to Get Into College

But, if you want to go to a four-year college next year, and you’ve been a relatively decent high school student, as long as you follow instructions and meet application deadlines, you will achieve that goal.

In fact, it really shouldn’t be any easier or harder for you to apply to college (and get in) this year significantly than it was last year.  

But It Will Be Harder for Admissions Officers to Evaluate You

However, admissions officers’ lives will be harder, mostly due to test scores being either optional or not considered at schools that used them quite heavily before (most notably UC and Cal State) for either eligibility or admissions purposes.

Many schools have been test optional before this year, including some well-known schools like Wake Forest, but having to figure out how to review applicants without this measure, last minute and en masse, is going to create a ton more work, as well as a ton of extra scrutiny and pressure from pretty much everyone.  

GPA and Course Load Will Be Emphasized

The main selection factors for public state schools will have to be GPA and course load. Admissions officers will have to take an even closer look at the depth and breadth of a student’s high school transcript than ever before.

Extracurriculars and Essays Will Be More Important Than Ever

The UCs and other public schools that have considered extracurriculars and essays in the past will place more emphasis on those aspects. Schools like the Cal States, which have NOT included an activities or essay section on their applications previously*, may do so (unlikely but possible for this year, but probably will happen in the future).

Top-tier Colleges Will Look Even Harder at Letters of Recommendation

The smaller private schools, especially the “top-tier schools” like Stanford and the Ivies, will also have to look even harder at letters of recommendation (which have always been a big factor at elite universities).

More Students Will Be Put on Waitlists

I predict that many colleges will waitlist more students as well, as high-level students often gain acceptance into a number of schools and the domino effect applies. In an uncertain year, there may be more reliance on the waitlist tool as schools try to protect their yield rates as well as the “quality” of their student body.

Colleges Will Offer More Remediation/Pre-college Classes

At some point, colleges may offer more remediation/pre-college summer classes for accepted students to ensure students are prepared before they enter as freshmen: the effects of distance learning and the general disruption in high school students’ lives could potentially have a deleterious effect on how students will perform in college-level classes.

In the Future, There Will be Alternatives to the SAT/ACT

I will also go out on a limb and predict that within a few years, the UCs and/or the CSUs will have a “replacement” for the SAT/ACT. My hunch is that testing companies are already planning how they can create something that the largest public college systems will consider using.

It’s Still Important to Create a Balanced School List

Back to now though. The key this year, as always, is to make sure that your list of colleges is balanced: you should have 1-3 “reach” schools, 1-3 “match” schools, and 2-3 “likely” schools. Note that your match and likely schools should be exciting to you and have qualities that you are truly interested in - not just places where you’re pretty sure you can get in based on the typical accepted student.

So, take a deep breath, make sure you know what you need to do and when you need to do it, and carry on.

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