The Coronavirus’s Effect on the College Admissions Process



The University of Chicago is one of a growing number of colleges and universities to make SAT and ACT tests optional for applicants.

Elizabeth Conneely, Staff Writer

In today’s society, college admissions is always a stressful process for high school students and their parents.  Recently, the emergence of the coronavirus has changed everything about this demanding experience.  One of the most significant changes is that colleges across the US announced that they had gone “test-optional” or “test blind” for standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT.  Currently, this policy is only in effect for 2021 for many schools, although a few schools have announced that they will be extending this rule for the next few years as well.  

“I hope that when I apply to schools, I will have the option to submit scores.  It is nice just to have the option,” said junior Caroline Brandvold.

Students and their families can look at to see if the schools they are interested in are test-optional or test blind.  If a student does choose to take a standardized test, there are many resources online, such as Khan Academy, that offer online tutoring, but one should check whether a school is test-optional before he or she invests the time it takes to prepare.  Instead of using hours studying for the test, one can work on extracurricular activities and volunteering opportunities without being penalized for not having standardized test scores.

One major school system that has attempted to adjust to the times is the University of California system that announced they are going test-optional for their application.  

“When I applied to the UCs in fall 2019, my application included an SAT score that I had studied very hard for.  Regardless, I cannot ignore the fact that the pandemic has hindered nearly every student’s ability to take these tests and get the score they would have gotten in a ‘normal year.’ Some of my classmates may think it is unfair to remove this from the application because everyone had to take these tests years prior.  However, being a student in 2020—especially applying to college in 2020—poses so many new challenges that my peers and I did not have to deal with, so removing the SAT or ACT is a way of relieving the extra stress for applicants,” said Schreiber graduate and UCLA freshman Rebecca Charno, editor-in-chief emeritus.

Other changes to the admissions process have also occurred.  The National Association for College Admission Counseling has suggested that colleges be adaptable with deadlines for those applying for fall 2021.  The Admissions Community Cultivating Equity and Peace Today has released a list of colleges that have postponed their deposit deadlines from May 1 to June 1.  

In addition to these adjustments, there are changes in the way students are able to choose their potential schools.  Students have lost the opportunity to visit campuses in-person due to COVID.  In its place, colleges have created virtual tours and have encouraged future applicants to attend them.  Although it may not be the same as stepping foot on campus for the first time, it still allows students to see the campus.  Colleges then track whether the applicant has demonstrated interest to gauge how likely they are to enroll.  

“I think it will be difficult not to go and visit campuses because it will be hard to see if I like the school or not,” said junior Gabby Gitman.  

In an interview with the New York Public Radio, Jeff Schiffman, director of undergraduate admissions at Tulane University, said that the admission officers understand the circumstances created by the pandemic and they will be paying close attention to the Covid-19 question that has been added to this year’s Common Application.  Some schools, like Tulane, have struggled with finding ways to interact with potential students in the absence of college fairs and have created new interview options.  

Other colleges have also added new application options.  For example, Bowdoin College added a new question on their application that gives students two minutes to record a video of themselves answering a specific prompt.  The questions fall along the lines of “If you did not have the use of technology for an afternoon, what would you do?” or “When was the last time you felt truly inspired and why?”  The students have no time to prepare their answers, but it gives the college admissions officers an opportunity to get a closer look at who they are.  

For some time, colleges have been trying to put more focus on the “character movement.”  Now, college admissions are more focused on who the student is and why he or she is uniquely qualified.  Extracurricular activities, volunteer hours, and grades still count in the  process, but it is not the same as it was just a year ago.  The admissions officers understand that a student’s extracurricular activities and educational lifestyle have drastically changed since the beginning of the pandemic.   

Colleges are continuing to find new ways to adapt to the circumstances in the country while still maintaining  admissions standards.  While we don’t know what the next few months will bring, we do know that everyone is experiencing this new reality for the first time.  High school students and colleges will need to adapt together to the new reality that is facing them.