College Admissions Trends During COVID-19

by | Sep 12, 2020

This is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable years ever for college admissions. Since these are unprecedented circumstances, we won’t know exactly how individual colleges will be adapting their practices. But there are some trends that we can expect: 

  1. More flexibility with standardized testing: Several SAT & ACT dates in the spring were cancelled, and while testing has since resumed, students in many parts of the country are finding it challenging to register for the test. Individual test centers make the ultimate call as to whether they can safely proctor the exams. This means that colleges have expressed more flexibility when it comes to testing requirements. Some have moved to make the SAT or ACT optional; others have indicated that they will not penalize students who attempted to take the test but had their exam postponed.

So while you may still be able to submit an application without the SAT, keep in mind that highly selective colleges still need to find a reason to say “No” to the vast majority of applicants. If you already took a test (or if you get the chance to take the exam later in the year), your scores can still be a significant part of the admissions process. 

Many colleges have also moved to make the subject tests optional this year. But again, for top colleges or competitive majors like engineering, strong scores on subject exams can be another data point in your favor. 

  1. Grades may be less reliable. Colleges understand that remote learning was a significantly different experience for many students. Many schools and districts have adopted policies like converting all grades to pass/fail. Others opted to give students the chance to improve their grades, but decided that grades could not drop after the shift to remote learning. So expect colleges to look at spring 2020 grades with some degree of skepticism. 
  1. Early action/early decision: Princeton University moved to eliminate their longstanding early action policy. So far, most schools have not followed suit. But don’t be surprised if early decision plays even more of a role in the admissions process as universities are eager to “lock in” a commitment from admitted students given the difficulty in projecting how many students will ultimately end up choosing to attend. 

4. More waitlist activity: Along the same lines, we might see significantly more students admitted off of the waitlist. Some colleges will struggle to meet their enrollment targets as more students consider alternative plans like gap years, deferrals, or simply preferring to stay closer to home. If you get placed on any waitlists this year, be sure to pursue the school and don’t be too quick to rule out the chance that you’ll be admitted later on.