How COVID-19 Affects College Applications for the Class of 2021

Anvi Kasargod, Sports Editor/Reporter

As the novel coronavirus has cancelled or postponed several events, there is no denying that the global pandemic will significantly impact the college application process for the Class of 2021.

 Although there are advantages and disadvantages for the incoming class of seniors as they begin applying for college, the disadvantages that have come with the changing college admissions process have been gaining more recognition.

To begin, shelter-in-place and social distancing orders have caused colleges to switch from in-person college visits to virtual tours and information sessions. Although these virtual resources allow prospective students to view campuses and receive information online, it might be more difficult to ask tour guides personalized questions about schools and get a sense of campus environments and student life virtually than while visiting in person.  

Uncertainty with regards to job security as a result of the falling economy has put additional stresses on students as they decide on which colleges to apply to and the affordability of each school. As more people file for unemployment, colleges are also in a difficult situation since financial aid packages will be in higher demand for incoming students. 

Standardized tests such as the SAT, ACT and SAT Subject Tests have also been rescheduled due to shelter-in-place orders, leading several schools to go test-optional. These test-optional policies, however, might put students at a disadvantage since it is more difficult for them to stand out in large applicant pools. 

Colleges often use test scores in their first round of examining applications, and a threshold score often determines whether students proceed past the first stage of admission. Once applicants cross this initial threshold, colleges examine the student’s extracurricular activities, teacher recommendations, essays and more, as they finalize their decision. 

However, if large amounts of applicants begin to exclude test scores from their applications because of test optional policies, schools must find new means of examining applications, and students must find new and innovative ways to enhance their applications and stand out from the crowd.

Similarly, as schools switch to online learning amid school closures, many schools have decided to move from letter grades to a pass/fail grading system. This has raised further concerns regarding high school transcripts since students will once again find it harder to stand out amongst other applicants if an A+ and C+ both count as a pass in certain courses.     

Finally, the shift to online learning has disproportionately impacted low-income students who may not have access to the technology necessary for virtual lessons. According to CNBC, “Some schools are reporting that fewer than half of their students are actually participating in online learning.” The increased use of technology in the education system, such as College Board switching to online AP exams, has perpetuated concerns about inequity. 

Despite the several disadvantages that come with the changing college admissions process for the Class of 2021, prospective students can still find several ways to benefit from shelter-in-place and the modified application process. 

Although quarantine has caused school closures and the cancellations of most activities outside of the home, it has provided people with more free time to explore passions and talents that they never knew they had. 

It also provides more time to find volunteer opportunities and get involved in the community as the pandemic has led to a larger demand for volunteer workers. 

Finally, in the absence of standardized test scores and test optional policies, future applications are likely to be more focused on essays and personal statements. This can be advantageous since applications will be able to offer a more personal look into each student’s life, and an applicant’s viability as a prospective student would not be reduced to a single test score. Students can convey their interests and passions — ones that they have been able to further explore during quarantine — through their essays and give colleges a more detailed account of their complex lives.