How COVID-19 will Affect College Admissions

By Sabeen Malik | September 16, 2020

COVID-19 is, without a doubt, a global phenomenon that will forever change our world. It is unlikely that we will come back from this pandemic the exact same as we were before. With so many regulations currently put into place to keep us safe from COVID-19, the majority of us are limited in our activities. Our routines and plans have changed, and we are left trying to figure out how we can best adapt to this pandemic and create a sense of normalcy in our lives. However, for students, this unprecedented time has taken a great toll on us, especially rising high school juniors and seniors. Everybody has been affected to some degree, and students are no exception. If anything, high school upperclassmen and other prospective students applying to colleges have been hit particularly hard, as many of them no longer have a clear path to school. Between SAT postponements and campus visit cancellations, many college hopefuls find themselves left in the lurch. With the college admission season coming up, many students are wondering how college admissions will be affected by this pandemic, whether it is standardized testing, school courses, or extracurriculars.

The college admission process is hard enough. Top universities look for a number of factors, including high standardized test scores and GPA, challenging course loads, unique extracurriculars, and notable awards. However, with COVID-19, most, if not all these things, are being affected. Let’s take a look at these one by one.

First, standardized testing. Many juniors had plans to take the SAT exam this spring or summer, many of whom would have been taking this for the first time, or planned to retake it to get a higher score. However, The College Board has already cancelled the March, May, and June SAT exams. Here is the statement The College Board has released regarding this matter:

As the College Board responds to the impact of the coronavirus, our top priorities are your health and safety. Right now, public health officials have made it clear it's not safe to gather students in one place. Many states have closed their schools for the rest of the academic year, and globally there are widespread school closures across 192 countries. We'll ensure that you and all students have opportunities to take the SAT to make up for this spring's lost administrations. If it's safe from a public health standpoint, we'll provide weekend SAT administrations every month through the end of the calendar year, beginning in August. This includes a new administration in September, in addition to the previously scheduled tests." If you would like more information, please visit The College Board’s official website.

So, the College Board is essentially saying that if it is safe to take the exam in person, they will resume testing in the fall, and add an additional test date in September. The College Board did as well state in the spring that they would provide digital testing, however, in the coming weeks after that, they made a decision to shelf that idea, due to the high likelihood of technical difficulties.

It may seem like the College Board has everything under control. For the 2020-2021 admissions, many universities are now becoming test optional, for example, Cornell University and Case Western Reserve University. However, this also creates a problem because many believe that if universities become test optional, they will put more weight on other parts of your application, which may become difficult for students who put more time in testing rather than other activities. However, it’s almost impossible to predict anything yet, because we won’t know what the world will be like in a couple of months.

Next, we will look at GPA and course load. Many schools, including Greenhills, have implemented Pass/Fail grading during remote learning, due to the uncertainty of how this will affect students’ learning and ability to study. Understandably, many students are concerned about how their high schools’ grading policies will impact college admissions. Since the current cycle of decisions is based on grades prior to this semester, it remains to be seen how admission officers will evaluate grades from the period affected by coronavirus. Most likely, colleges will weigh grades during COVID-19 less heavily or not consider them at all. Currently, colleges are showing that they’re willing to adapt to whatever model your high school adopts, but they will likely standardize their approach internally during the admissions season. For example, Brandeis University is maintaining a Coronavirus/COVID-19 FAQ page with the following statement: “If your school decides to move to an alternative grading system (i.e. pass/fail, credit/no credit), our office is fully prepared to accept these changes as made by individual schools. Any information explaining these changes is always welcome, whether on the transcript itself or in a communication from your school counselor.”

Colleges will be flexible with admissions because they understand the changes schools are making because of this pandemic. That said, you should still make an effort to perform well in your courses, since a consistently strong transcript will only help you in the long and short run.

Finally, let’s look at extracurricular activities. Having strong extracurricular activities that demonstrate interest and passion is vital for college applications. Summer is a perfect time to implement some of these. However, for high school students, this may have to wait. Many students had plans to, for example, volunteer at hospitals, attend pre-college programs, visit universities, or conduct research. On a local level, many Greenhills Juniors had plans to take part in the Advanced Research program this summer, which most would consider a notable part of their extracurricular activities. However, now it is very unlikely this will take place. Many students have also had spring activities put on halt, like sports, statewide and national competitions, collaborative projects, and more. Visiting universities is also a big part of college admissions, because it helps students craft college essays on first hand experience so they show strong demonstrated interest.

According to College Transitions, “Some students are worrying about how this break in extracurricular activities will look down the road on their college applications. We can assure you that no one is going to judge you for this prolonged period of inactivity. The nation is dealing with the worst health crisis of our lifetime and all teens in your cohort are facing the same circumstances.” Obviously, all students around the globe are dealing with this same problem, and colleges will be understanding of this. However, even though we might not have any accessible “in person” activities, there’s still a lot we can do. There are a number of remote extracurriculars students can do that fit their passion and will look just good as in person extracurricular activities. For example, were you planning on tutoring this summer, or would like to? There are a number of remote tutoring services and nonprofits students can join, such as LearnToBe Tutors or Kara Tutoring. Are you interested in Computer Science and Engineering? Check out Coders Collective! Or, do you like science and math more and want to go in the STEM field? Visit Science and Us or Project Planet. If you are interested in research, there are many online alternatives, like the Summer Science Institute, a 6 week research program. Maybe even take a college class during the summer, like Yale University's famous class The Science of Well Being, a class meant for college students and one of the most-taken courses at Yale University (which is now free online and can be included as an extracurricular activity on college applications)! Are you worried about college visits? Well, there are many virtual college simulations. Check out You Visit or Campus Tours, and find your college fit. These are just a few activities available out of the many remote activities out there for students. Explore your interests and find one right for you!

COVID-19 is not something we planned for, and so we must adapt the best we can. With College Admissions, it’s obviously going to be much, much different. However, don’t fret, because everyone is on the same boat, and it’s important that we try some new things, even if it’s through screens. All this is a lot to take in, however, this is a different time in the world so things will change, so the best thing we can do is adapt and make the best of the situation.