Information and responses to the coronavirus outbreak are continuing to evolve, and high schools, colleges, and universities across the country are working tirelessly to keep students both in the US and abroad informed on what everything means for students moving forward. The college admissions process itself is complicated enough, and now with another layer of uncertainty that is directly affecting applicants, families are wondering what to expect. Our team of expert counselors is here to provide some clarity for anxious applicants on how coronavirus will impact college admissions during the fall and beyond.
Uncertainty About Grades
Some high schools have gone fully remote while others are following hybrid models that blend in-person instruction with online learning. As a result of these changes, schools have had to make tough decisions about grades – whether they can continue to grade as usual or whether it’s better even move to a pass/fail system during these unprecedented semesters. This will impact transcripts for students across the board, from 9th grade all the way to current seniors and even current college students.
Grades are the most important factor that colleges evaluate. Our counselors are all former admissions officers, so we know that admissions officers will take into consideration the unusual circumstances that students have encountered this year. Right now, it looks like many admissions officers plan to focus more on the grades students were able to receive for last year’s fall semester as a gauge of academic performance. This means that admissions officers might assume that the grading students received last fall would be maintained in the spring. This also applies to students who may be receiving pass/fail grades. If you were already on an upward grade trend, colleges will take that into consideration when looking at your whole transcript – not just the pass/fail grade itself.
SAT and ACT Cancellations and Make Up Test Dates
Spring and summer testing for college entrance exams was heavily affected by the response to the coronavirus, with many cancellations and uncertainty about future test dates.
SAT Subject Tests: In January 2021, the College Board announced that both SAT Subject Tests and the optional essay portion of the current SAT exam would be discontinued.
ACT: The ACT proceeded with the June exam nationally, but the number of actual testing locations that were open for the exam were very limited. The ACT also added additional national test dates for this fall: Sept. 19, Oct. 10, and Oct. 17.
TOEFL: ETS announced that students will be able to take the TOEFL at home, following the closure of testing sites across the globe in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, the at-home exam is available for students in the US, Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Hong Kong (China) and Macau (China).
Many Colleges Going Test-Optional for Fall 2021 Admissions
In direct response to testing cancellations and limited availability of future test dates for students applying for fall 2021 admission, over half of colleges and universities in the US have announced that they will be test-optional for the upcoming admissions season, including all Ivy Leagues. The experts at IvyWise anticipate even more schools will adopt similar policies for the 2020-21 admissions cycle, with some like MIT adjusting their testing policy permanently. That said, while most schools will be test-optional, they are not test-blind – meaning they will still accept SAT or ACT scores. In fact, many schools have stated in their test-optional policy announcements that students who do have SAT or ACT scores should consider including them in their applications, so students should still consider testing as part of their college prep plan if possible.
Will Colleges Accept AP Credit For the 2020 Exams?
As many students know, AP Exams were taken at home last academic year. While many AP exam test-takers encountered issues with the new at-home format, the College Board considered the AP testing season an overall success. The issues students faced, however, did lead them to scrapping their plans for an at-home SAT later this year. With the adjusted AP exam format, many students are wondering if colleges will accept those exam scores for college credit. Expect that AP credit awarded will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis at every college. Every school has their own system for awarding AP credit, so some may accept this year’s scores for credit while others may not.
Interrupted Extracurricular Activities
With the ongoing disruptions due to the pandemic, some extracurricular activities remain on hold. Competitions canceled, sports seasons are over, clubs are no longer meeting, and even things like volunteer projects have stopped. Extracurricular activities are a great way to explore your interests and colleges want to see what students are doing in their spare time, so what happens when all of those carefully selected activities are no longer happening? Keep in mind – every student is facing disruption and challenge right now. Admissions officers know this and they want students to know that these interruptions in regular activities will not be held against them. In fact, over 300 colleges and universities in the US released a statement reassuring students that any activities or summer experiences cut short or canceled will not be held against students when applying to college this fall. Context will be key, and both the Common App and Coalition app will provide a section in the 2020-21 application for students to provide more context on how they were affected by the coronavirus response. This is separate from the standard Additional Information section. Students can also use this time to get creative with their extracurricular pursuits and continue to explore their interests from home.
Canceled College Visits
Another blow to college prep for current seniors was the cancellation of college visits and information sessions over one of the most popular time for students to visit – spring break. This has left many students concerned about how they can continue to research schools and build their balanced college list without that critical college visit piece. Students should continue to research and learn about colleges of interest. Take some virtual tours to get an initial look at a school. If a college on your list is offering virtual information sessions register for one! Schools that track demonstrated interest may still look at virtual information session registration as a way to gauge students’ interest, so if your top-choice schools are offering virtual info sessions you should take advantage and register for them. Learning about colleges doesn’t have to stop just because you can’t physically visit one yet.
The Impact on International Students
All of the factors mentioned above, especially testing, on top of other issues like travel restrictions, visa processing delays, and more are deeply impacting international applicants to US universities. For international students planning to apply to college this fall, canceled testing and travel restrictions will make it even harder to plan for the admissions process. This isn’t just worrisome for international students themselves, but also colleges and universities that rely on tuition from international students as a source of revenue. It’s critical for international students planning to apply to colleges in the US this fall to develop a plan for applications now, which includes available testing, a balanced college list with varying deadlines, and more.
How Applications Will Be Evaluated This Fall
Admissions officers are human, and they’re also encountering the same difficulties as everyone else – canceled events, working from home, inability to engage in regular activities, and more. They understand the toll this is taking on students and will take this into account when evaluating applications for the class of 2025. Over 300 colleges and universities in the US have come together to reassure students that any negative impacts that COVID-19 has had on academics, activities, summer plans, and more will NOT be held against students.
Admissions officers will “read in context,” meaning they will certainly take into consideration activities that stopped short or competitions that were canceled because of coronavirus. This applies to all aspects of the college application, from grades and test scores to activities, demonstrated interest, and more. Especially with many schools going test-optional for the admissions cycle, the process may become even more holistic as colleges evaluate applicants within the context that this was a very unusual school year.
While we don’t expect schools to dramatically alter their admissions rubrics, those guidelines will certainly become more flexible allowing admissions officers to weigh factors differently in order to give a more holistic review. For example, with extracurricular activities halted and spring semester grading that might not reflect students’ full ability, more weight might be given to recommendation letters that can fill in additional context. And with colleges visits and information session canceled, schools that rely heavily on demonstrated interest might rely more on essays for informed interest.
Tips for Seniors Applying for Fall 2021 Admission
There is a lot of uncertainty right now for current high school seniors, however, that does not mean that you can’t be proactive. If you’re planning to apply to college this fall, here’s what you can do to stay on track.
- Stay Engaged: If you’re a student affected by school closures due to coronavirus, it’s important to continue to stay engaged with your studies. Give full attention to any virtual lessons that your school might offer. If your school is not offering supplemental or virtual courses during the closure, seek out other opportunities. Online platforms like Coursera and edX offer a plethora of course options for students. Many educational resources are being offered for free right now so do some research and explore your options.
- Continue Test Prep: Don’t assume that all schools will go test-optional. In fact, many may still require test scores as part of the application process. If you’re planning to apply to schools that currently require SAT or ACT scores you need to continue to prepare, especially since there is the possibility of additional test dates being offered this year. Not only will this help you reach your goal score, it will also keep you engaged while school is out. Many tutors, including IvyWise’s test prep experts, offer virtual lessons so that students can continue to learn remotely.
- Do Virtual Information Sessions and Visits: There’s no substitute for an in-person visit, but many colleges are offering virtual information sessions and directing students to virtual tours of the campus. While a virtual tour isn’t the same experience, the virtual information session can be! You can learn about the school from an admissions officer and in many cases get your questions answered directly. This will be important for schools, like Tulane for example, that rely heavily on demonstrated interest as part of the application review process – if they’ve seen that you participated in their virtual admissions events that can only help your demonstrated interest.
- Refine School List: This is a critical college prep time for students both in the US and abroad, so now is the time for students to take a look at their balanced college list and refine it based on their current goals and any obstacles they think they might face down the line. For example, students need to ensure that they’re adjusting their testing schedule based on the requirements of their top-choice institutions and when they think they might be able to sit for the SAT or ACT. If they’re unable to meet those requirements, they might want to consider test-optional universities or schools with varying deadlines. Doing research is key and now is the time to do a thorough search while school is “out.”
- Get Creative! As far as extracurricular activities go, there’s a lot NOT happening – but it doesn’t have to be that way. Get creative with how to stay engaged with your interests during this time. Colleges will be interested to see the variety of ways that students have responded to this unprecedented time, and if you can use this time to further explore your passions then you should! Get through that reading list you’ve been putting off. Take some online cooking classes. Offer virtual basketball coaching tutorials. Whatever your passion is, find a creative way to engage with it.
- Prep for College Apps: Many students might not be ready to think about college applications right now – and that’s okay! But for those who are, now is good time to get a head start. Brainstorm some essay topics (try NOT to write about coronavirus) and work on a rough outline of your personal statement. Take a look at the activity section and start to think about how you want to present your extracurriculars. We advise that juniors start working on their college applications the summer before senior year, and with many students at home with a lighter schedule now could be a good time to get going.
There’s plenty of uncertainty in the college admissions process already, and the current coronavirus outbreak and response is complicating things even more for students across the globe. If you have questions about how to proceed with your college prep, or want to learn more about virtual tutoring and test prep opportunities during school closures, contact us today.