How COVID-19 is accelerating overdue changes to college admissions
As the pandemic continues to evolve, so does the world of college admissions. Colleges have already made significant changes to their admissions processes, basing their decisions on new criteria, removing the requirement for standardized tests, and transitioning annual recruitment activities to be virtual. Given that it will be several more months at least until things return to normal, further changes seem inevitable for 2021 and beyond.
Some of these changes are actually quite positive. In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have hastened the introduction of long-overdue changes that will benefit many students. Not all of the changes are for the best though. Below, I outline the six biggest changes our expert team at The Ivy Dean has observed so far. Although only time will tell which impacts are permanent and which are only temporary, I am certain that college admissions – like many things – will never return to precisely the way it was before 2020.
- Changes to standardized testing: Many colleges went test-optional this year, giving applicants the choice whether or not to include SAT or ACT scores. As this article in Forbes observes, it is likely that test optional policies will be in place for the 2-3 years, reflecting the fact that restrictions from the pandemic are providing juniors with few opportunities to write the SAT and ACT. In fact, “of the 600+ colleges and universities suspending test-score submission requirements since mid-March 2020, more than 100 announced that the new policies would be permanent or adopted multi-year pilots.” Standardized testing may eventually become a thing of the past. If this is the case, grades will become more important than ever, as college admissions offices will have fewer criteria to assess. At the same time, test-optional policies may create opportunities for students whose applications are stronger without any standardized test scores.
- Changes in early acceptance rates: As I explained in my previous blog post, schools in the Ivy League received a record number of early admission applications this year. As a result, their admissions process became even more selective, with historically low acceptance rates. So far, this trend appears to be exclusive to selective colleges; outside of the Ivy League, many schools are actually struggling to recruit and retain enough students due to a large number of deferrals.
- Changes in recruitment activities: In response to the restrictions on travel and in-person gatherings, colleges have begun offering tours and visits virtually. As one campus explained, “We’ve turned this crisis into an opportunity to meet prospective students where they already were – online – and where they expect us to be.” Even after the pandemic, it is likely that in-person recruitment activities will be accompanied by virtual options, in the interest of increasing accessibility and reaching more prospective students.
- Changes in education delivery: Although recruitment and admissions will likely remain at least partially virtual, it is unlikely that actual classes will stay online. For many students, the pandemic has reinforced the value of brick-and-mortar education with in-class lessons and face-to-face learning. Many students are opting to take gap years rather than completing their courses online, in hopes of being able to complete their studies in person and more thoroughly immerse themselves in the college experience.
- Changes in diversity and inclusion: Schools are also making more of an effort to be more inclusive in response to the social movements that rose to prominence last year, realizing the very real need to ensure that all prospective students feel welcomed. This survey of college admissions offices notes that a large majority of college recruiters said that “their college has implemented higher standards around diversity and inclusion due to social unrest around the country” and that “over 85% feel that their university is working to help end structural racism in higher education.”
- Changes in financial circumstances: Despite any changes that might make college more accessible for some, financial constraints will likely be a significant issue. Low-income student applications and enrolment may continue to lag, especially as families deal with economic losses caused by the pandemic. However, this could be addressed if there is an increase in financial aid applications and greater participation in cheaper, online education options.
With these changes in mind, and the fact that most school activities – usually a major component of applications to selective colleges – are on hold, it is clear that students will have to be especially strategic in their applications this year. Our Application PositioningTM service helps students to ensure that they stand out to recruiters, while helping families to explore creative and meaningful engagements in remote settings.
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