Has Coronavirus Made It Easier to Get Into College



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With so many aspects of the college application and admissions process being postponed, reformatted, or cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many students who plan to apply to college in Fall 2021 are wondering if getting into college will be easier or more difficult during the next year.


To help you understand the possible advantages of the 2021/2022 college admissions situation,

we’ll cover the following in this article:

  • Explaining the most important changes to college admissions
  • Analyzing the aspects of the 2021/2022 college admissions process that may make it easier to get into college
  • Five tips for applying to college during the 2021/2022 admissions cycle

Let’s jump in!


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The coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot about the college admissions process. But will it make it easier?


How COVID-19 Has Changed the College Admissions Process


The COVID-19 pandemic altered the college admissions process in 2020 in several significant ways, and some schools are extending those changes into 2021/2022 as well. To help you get an idea of the most important changes due to COVID-19, we’ll review the current facts here.

Probably the biggest change to the college admissions process due to COVID-19 has been

the decision for some colleges and universities to go “test optional” for the 2020/2021 and 2021/2022 admissions cycles

, with

some schools even choosing to adopt a permanent test optional policy.


“Test optional”

means that a school won’t require you to submit your ACT or SAT test scores as part of the admissions process. You can

choose

to do so if you’d like, but not submitting scores won’t be held against you.


Another significant change in the college admissions landscape involves international students.

While many international students typically apply to U.S. colleges and universities, their numbers dropped significantly due to the pandemic.

The Student and Visitor Exchange Service

reported that

international student records in the US were down 17.86% for 2020 compared to 2019.

The cancellation of SAT/ACT dates, suspension of student visas, and a myriad of other ongoing, travel-related issues

will likely continue to prevent many international students from applying to U.S. schools and/or attending university in 2021 and 2022.

On top of these changes,

many families have seen significant changes in their financial situation due to COVID-19 impacts

, which is expected to negatively affect their ability to send college-ready family members off to school next year. In fact,

many high schoolers have reported considering taking a gap year

or simply entering the workforce rather than applying to college this fall.

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We can’t guarantee that the pandemic will make it super easy to get into your dream school, but some of the changes to the admissions process could definitely work in your favor.


How Getting Into College Might Be Easier This Fall



Let’s take a closer look at three ways that college admissions might be easier this fall:

  1. SAT/ACT scores have been designated as optional components of college applications at many U.S. schools, so you may not have to submit your test scores.
  2. Fewer students are expected to apply for admission at most colleges.
  3. Colleges and universities are making accommodations for extenuating circumstances that may affect students’ ability to attend college in 2021/2022.

Next, we briefly break down each of these potential changes to talk about how it might make college admissions a bit easier in 2021-2022.


#1: Some Schools Are Going Test Optional

There were widespread cancellations of the SAT and ACT during Spring and Summer 2020 due to COVID-19. Those cancellations, coupled with COVID-19’s spread in the US, prompted many colleges and universities to adopt a “test optional” policy for SAT/ACT scores.

Many of those schools, including the



University of California system



and



CalTech



, are extending their test optional policies into 2021 and beyond.

Like we mentioned earlier, “test optional” means that while applicants have the option to submit SAT/ACT scores for consideration with their applications, students who choose not to or are not able to submit scores will not be negatively impacted during the admissions process.

In other words,

at many schools, you can get accepted without submitting ACT/SAT scores.

How might this make college admissions easier? Well, if you’re only applying to test optional schools this fall,

it could mean that you don’t have to take the SAT or ACT at all

. That means you won’t have to worry about whether your test scores are high enough or if your scores will prevent you from getting accepted!

Many students have taken advantage of this.

In fact, through February 15, 2021

, only 44% of students using the

Common Application

submitted SAT or ACT scores, compared to 77% from the same time period the year before.

That means the majority of Common App users didn’t include test scores in their college applications!

Keep in mind that even test optional schools may require SAT/ACT scores if you’re applying for certain programs, grants, or scholarships. So

make sure you do your research before you decide to skip the SAT or ACT entirely.

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Fewer applicants? We like those odds.


#2: Fewer Students Are Applying to College

In general, the pandemic has caused fewer students to apply to college, partly based on the fact that international students found it impossible to travel to the U.S. due to the global pandemic, students were unsure about the benefits of attending remote college classes, and many U.S. students experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19.

In Fall 2020, the number of high school graduates who went straight to college

fell by 6.8%

, and many schools

experienced drops in application numbers

. SUNY colleges saw applications drop by 14%, Portland State University saw a drop of 12% in freshman applications and 28% in transfer applications, and Loyola University Maryland saw a drop of 12% in applications.

This trend didn’t hold true for Ivy League schools and large public schools, most of which saw

large increases in applications

, but

the majority of schools, particularly smaller and lesser-known schools, received fewer applications.


Those schools likely became less competitive because they received fewer applications but still aimed to admit a new class of students of comparable size to those of previous years.


#3: Colleges Are Accommodating Students With Extenuating Circumstances

If nothing else, the fact that colleges and universities are approaching the admissions process with understanding should be reassuring.

Many schools have chosen to be more lenient with crucial aspects of the admissions process

, like test scores and senior course grades, in order to accommodate the applicants who have experienced academic issues due to the effects of COVID-19.

They have also been more flexible about deadlines for submission of crucial application materials, including letters of recommendation and official transcripts. For instance,

the University of California schools went test blind for 2021

and allowed students to begin classes without a transcript on file as long as one was received sometime during the fall semester. All schools are handling these issues differently, so be sure you check with your institution for specific information.

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These tips will help you make the most of your school’s new admission guidelines.


5 Tips for Applying to College in Fall 2021

Now that you’re aware of the ways that college admissions might be looking at your applications in new ways this fall, you can start to adjust your application process to take advantage of these changes.

Our five tips for applying to college in Fall 2021 can help you navigate this new process

with ease.


Tip 1: Write Stellar Application Essays

Under any circumstances,

college application essays

are an extremely important part of your application. Essays give you the chance to show off the person behind the list of accomplishments, test scores, and grades and make a case for why you would be an important addition to a school’s incoming class of students.

However,

if you are applying to schools that have chosen to go test optional this fall, your application essays become even more important.

While taking away SAT/ACT scores won’t hurt your chances of admission at test optional schools, not including them means colleges will consider the other parts of your application even more closely.


This means that every part of your college application needs to be really strong—especially your essays.

Plan to use your essays as an opportunity to advocate for your ability to succeed academically in creative ways, especially if other parts of your application (like your course grades and extracurriculars) have also been impacted by COVID-19.


Tip 2: Ask for Letters of Recommendation Much Earlier

It’s no secret by now that COVID-19 has been hard on teachers and schools, too. If you need letters of recommendation for your applications this fall,

it’s important to begin reaching out to your recommenders as soon as possible.


Reaching out with recommendation requests early

allows you to respect your recommenders’ time

and

increases the chances that they’ll have the time to write thorough, thoughtful letters on your behalf.

Like with your application essays, letters of recommendation are a very important piece of your application, especially if you choose not to submit SAT/ACT scores.

Where your test scores are absent, these letters can step in and testify to your academic potential

and track record of excellence as a student.

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Your grades for your senior classes may have been affected due to school closures or remote learning. Be honest about those issues!


Tip 3: Prepare to Provide Clarification for Your Grades

Some students may be concerned that their high school’s decisions about how to handle final grades and GPAs during COVID-19 may place them at a disadvantage in the college admissions process. Some concerns might include a high school’s choice to adopt a pass/fail grading model for parts of 2020, or the decision to end courses early in Spring 2020 without providing students a chance to raise their final grades.

While it’s important to keep in mind that colleges are aware of these issues,

it’s also a good idea to prepare a brief explanation for any portion of your application that you feel might be perceived as a weak spot under normal circumstances.

For instance, you might consider briefly explaining how your high school chose to calculate grades during the pandemic and how that impacted your GPA. Most colleges provide a space that allows you to explain these extenuating circumstances, and a thoughtful, honest response will give college admissions a better sense of how your application has been impacted by COVID-19.


Tip 4: Get to Work on the Common and Coalition App Personal Statements

If you’re going to submit your application using the

Common App

or the

Coalition App

, you might already know that you’ll need to write and submit a personal statement as part of your application package. The prompts for the personal statements required through both of these apps are already set for the 2021-22 admissions cycle,

so you can begin by choosing a prompt and drafting out your statements now.

Plan out your

personal statements

in a way that will showcase your unique traits, experiences, or activities in an engaging and compelling way. It could also be helpful to keep in mind that many students may choose to write about challenges or experiences pertaining to the effects of COVID-19 this year, which is a good idea especially if it has negatively impacted your application. There’s one exception, though: some applications (like the

Common App

) have added a special COVID-19 section where you can explain how the pandemic impacted your grades, extracurriculars, or other elements of your application. If your app has that space, then make sure limit your discussion of COVID-19 to that section.

Regardless, it’s important to start these statements early so you can really polish them.

Remember: your personal statements and essays will be even more important during the 2021/2022 college application cycle,

especially if you’re applying to test optional schools.


Tip 5: Consider Still Taking the SAT or ACT for Highly Competitive Schools


Each of the Ivy League schools is test optional for the 2021/2022 admissions cycle.

This means that you don’t need to submit SAT or ACT test scores to apply to any of those schools. This is one reason all of those schools, along with other highly competitive schools, saw record numbers of applications for the 2020/2021 admissions cycle: many students felt that, if test scores didn’t need to be part of the equation, they might have a shot at a school they otherwise considered out of reach.

And it’s true that it’s perfectly possible to get into one of these schools without test scores: students did it last year, and they will again this year.

However, not requiring test scores doesn’t mean these schools are suddenly easier to get into.

In fact, they’re more competitive than ever because of the increase in applications we just mentioned. That means that you still need to impress them. If you have an excellent application with top-notch grades, coursework, extracurriculars, letters of rec, personal statements, etc., you might not need any test scores at all. But if you’re worried about your chances of getting in (as pretty much anyone applying to an Ivy is),

having a strong test score will give your application a boost.

Therefore, we still recommend taking the

SAT

or

ACT

if you’re applying to a highly competitive school, and working hard to get your best score.

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What’s Next?


If you’re interested in applying to test optional schools

,

we’ve put together a giant list of them to get you started with your research

.


Getting a head start on your SAT/ACT studying is critical if you’re planning on taking standardized tests.

Be sure you check out

our complete guide to the SAT

(or our

guide to the ACT

!) to get your summer studying off on the right foot.

Perhaps COVID-19 means that

you won’t be able to list



any



extracurriculars on your college applications

. If that’s your situation,

this article is for you

.



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