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College Admissions and COVID-19: Don’t Panic


Panicked Over College Admissions and COVID-19? Don’t Be.

The prospect of college admissions can be stress-inducing in the best of times, but in the age of COVID-19, it has produced a heightened level of anxiety all its own. With so many moving parts to the process, the questions about the impact of COVID-19 on each aspect are endless. What will happen with standardized testing? How will colleges view my end-of-year grades when school is so disrupted and classes are online? Since I can’t visit any colleges, how can I assess where I want to go or even apply? With social distancing, I can’t pursue any of my activities, so how can I show colleges that I’m involved? The list goes on and on.


While answers may be hard to come by right now, there are many reasons to take heart and remain calm. Here’s why we think so:

Everybody is in the same boat

We mean literally everybody. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic that affects every corner of the world. That includes every government, every business, and every sector of society. Consequently, everyone’s college admissions prospects are equally disadvantaged by this situation. Everyone is affected when standardized tests are cancelled or postponed. While you are stuck with online classes and no grades or performance measurements to go along with them, so is everybody else. Colleges 100% get this and will act accordingly in the admissions process. 

Colleges are more worried about themselves and their own survival

That’s right. It’s about them; it’s not about you. Given the suddenness and direness of the evolving situation, colleges are conducting triage. First and foremost, colleges must focus on what to do with their current students and staff with regard to delivering coursework, and dealing with housing, financial aid, and every other aspect of college life. Questions regarding prospective students and admissions overall are likely to be answered slowly, even though they’re still of critical importance. Colleges need time to figure out their priorities and policies, and no doubt, every school will ultimately have different answers. What this means is that patience on your part is necessary. Answers will come eventually. In the meantime, try not to stress about things that you cannot control. 

Furthermore, colleges need students. Right now, colleges are concerned that they may not have enough of them when the future rolls around. The economic stress of the pandemic affects every business, including the higher education business. The COVID-19 crisis has created a number of worrisome questions for colleges. 

  • Will students still be willing and able to pay for our school? 
  • Might we have to lower our tuition prices or offer financial incentives to ensure our enrollment in the fall?
  • Will international students still be able to come from abroad to attend? 
  • Will students who have to get on a plane to come to our school still be willing to do so? 
  • How can we create and ensure a safe and healthy environment for students who do attend? 

College Admissions and COVID-19: A buyer’s market

As a result, the college landscape is turning into a little bit more of a “buyer’s market.” That’s good news! While you are worrying about your own situation, colleges are worrying about whether you even want to apply, much less attend. Colleges are going to work that much harder to attract and admit prospective students, and that includes YOU. 

Colleges are innovating

Already many colleges are being innovative with their outreach as well as enrollment efforts. We are seeing a dramatic increase in opportunities for high school students to gain information remotely. Keep an eye out for virtual tours and information sessions and lots of individual school webinars aimed at introducing the school to students and families and at answering questions about the current environment. Also, for those seniors who are trying to decide where they want to go, a multitude of colleges are pushing out their enrollment deposit deadlines, and for those schools who haven’t made this change, they will no doubt be more willing to be more flexible for individual students who make a request.

Additionally, we anticipate that since colleges are worried about enrollment, wait lists at many schools are likely to be very long. While that might not sound like a good thing, we also expect that these wait lists will have significant movement–more so than in previous years–because of “student melt”. In other words, colleges are going to be losing a lot of current enrollment because of the various financial and social impacts of COVID-19, and they will need to replenish their student enrollment by tapping aggressively into wait lists.

Colleges will show a lot of “grace”

We have been in communication with a number of folks in admissions offices across the country. In every conversation, these folks have expressed that they understand the challenges and anxieties that students now face in the college search and application process. One admissions official stated that colleges would “show a lot of grace” when it comes to assessing this period of time in a student’s educational journey and that many schools would be likely to completely overlook this period if it is in the student’s favor to do so. We are already seeing this desire to be flexible, open and helpful to students in a few ways.

  • Standardized testing policies are evolving. Several colleges are going test optional for at least the next application year and potentially for longer. Schools such as Tufts, Boston University, and Case Western Reserve have already come out with these new testing policies, and we expect more to be announced. MIT recently communicated that they are no longer accepting SAT Subject Tests, and Harvard has announced that students who do not or cannot submit SAT Subject Tests will not be disadvantaged in the admissions process.
  • Many colleges have committed to being truly holistic in their application reviews. In other words, colleges will be assessing students in greater totality rather than focused primarily on grades and/or test scores. Students who otherwise might not have gotten a second look because their transcript or test scores were not as competitive may now be reviewed more closely.
  • A number of colleges have agreed that students will still be able to gain credit for high scores on AP exams, even though most high schools won’t complete the AP course material (the AP exams will also not be testing on a full curriculum).

Keep your perspective–and get help if you need it

In the age of college admissions and COVID-19, with the news seemingly dire on a daily basis, it’s important to keep perspective. When it comes to preparing for, searching for and applying to colleges, it is true that much is in flux and already changing. But, it is also true that along with this flux and change, there is a lot of opportunity and a lot of grace. 

Please let us know if we can be of assistance as you navigate your way through these choppy waters. It is our joy and privilege to empower our students to blaze their own college trail. The current storm will abate. So keep moving forward, and know that we’re here to help.


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