How the Pandemic Has Changed College Admissions

  • September 14, 2020

The fall semester typically brings about a lot of stress for high school seniors. From August to early next year, most seniors are in the midst of the process of applying to colleges – essentially making some of the most important decisions about how they are going to spend the next four years of their lives. 

Now, with coronavirus, students are facing undoubtedly the most uncertain year of college admissions in at least recent history. 

While slowly learning to adjust to the foreign world of online learning, students have suddenly been faced with the challenge of writing their college resumes and applications without the usual access to standardized testing like the SAT or the ACT, and extracurricular activities.

When the pandemic first hit during March of the 2019-2020 school year, many schools from across the country decided to replace traditional letter grades to a simpler pass-fail system. Students who were hoping to improve their overall grades before applying to colleges are now forced to find a different way to distinguish themselves from the thousands of other college applicants competing for admission this year.

In addition to the changes in grading, many SAT and ACT test dates have been canceled. According to the Washington Post, “One million high school juniors are missing the chance this spring to get their first SAT score.” Arguably, a vast majority of seniors will be applying to college this coming year with either no standardized test score or a score that they are not completely satisfied with, as the most common time to start taking these exams is early spring of the junior year.

In response, most colleges have adopted a test-optional policy, in which students will be able to submit their test scores but will not be required to do so. Most notable, the University of California state college system, which places much emphasis on standardized testing, in particular, announced in April that they would not require standardized testing for the high school class of 2021. This sudden inability to test only further widens the disparity between upper and lower level students, as the SAT in particular has long been deemed as a valid prediction of a student’s ability to be successful in college.

With grades and test scores up in the air, current seniors are now being faced with probably the most arbitrary college admissions process ever. This year, more emphasis will be placed on factors that will demonstrate who the applicant is as a person, like the essays and letters of recommendation. 

But, as much as we can speculate, nobody knows just how different this year will be. 

“We’re careening down a very different path of the mountain, that we’re not used to, at the same time that the ground is still shifting underneath us,” said Kedra Ishop, vice president of enrollment management at USC.

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