The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted many aspects of life, including the college admission process. With test centers closed, extracurricular activities canceled, and campuses shut down, applying to college has become more challenging and uncertain than ever. How can high school students prepare for and succeed in this new landscape?
Here are some of the major changes and challenges that college applicants face in the post-pandemic era, and some tips and strategies on how to overcome them.
Test-Optional Policies Are Here to Stay—For Now
One of the most significant changes in college admission is the widespread adoption of test-optional policies by many colleges and universities. This means that applicants can choose whether or not to submit their SAT or ACT scores as part of their application. According to FairTest, 96% of colleges do not require test scores for 2023 admission.
This change has been driven by the difficulties of accessing test centers and concerns about health and safety during the pandemic. However, it also reflects a growing recognition that test scores are not always the best predictor of college success, and that other factors such as high school GPA and extracurricular activities may be more relevant. Test-optional policies also aim to improve educational access and equity, especially for underrepresented students.
However, test-optional policies have some drawbacks and uncertainties. Some critics argue that they make the admission process more subjective and less fair, and that they do not effectively address equity issues. Some students may feel pressured to submit test scores anyway, especially if they are applying to highly selective schools. Some schools may revert to test-required policies in future cycles, depending on the availability of testing and the outcomes of their experiments.
Therefore, students should carefully research the test-optional policies of each school they are interested in, and decide whether or not to take standardized tests based on their goals and circumstances. If they do take tests, they should only submit their scores if they are above the middle 50% of pre-pandemic test score averages for each school. They should also focus on other aspects of their application that can showcase their academic potential and personal qualities.
Early Admission Is Booming—And So Are Deferments
Another trend in college admission is the increased importance and popularity of early action and early decision programs. These are options that allow students to apply to a college earlier than the regular deadline (usually in November) and receive an admission decision sooner (usually in December). Early action is non-binding, meaning that students can apply to multiple schools and choose where to enroll later. Early decision is binding, meaning that students can only apply to one school and must enroll if accepted.
Early admission programs have several advantages for both students and colleges. For students, they can increase their chances of getting into their top-choice schools, reduce stress and uncertainty, and demonstrate interest and commitment. For colleges, they can increase yield (the percentage of accepted students who enroll), diversify their applicant pool, and manage enrollment more efficiently.
However, early admission programs also have some challenges and risks. For students, they may limit their options and opportunities, especially if they apply early decision. They may also face more competition from other applicants who are also applying early. For colleges, they may face more unpredictability in enrollment due to the pandemic's impact on student preferences and financial situations. They may also have to defer more applicants to the regular pool or waitlist them until they have a clearer picture of their enrollment numbers.
Therefore, students should carefully weigh the pros and cons of applying early, and only do so if they are ready and confident about their choice. They should also have a backup plan in case they are deferred or rejected by their early school. They should also be flexible and adaptable to changing circumstances that may affect their college plans.
Holistic Review Is More Important Than Ever
A third trend in college admission is the increased emphasis on holistic review. This is an approach that considers multiple factors beyond grades and test scores when evaluating applicants. These factors may include essays, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, leadership roles, community service, work experience, personal background, diversity factors, special talents, etc.
Holistic review has been used by many colleges for a long time, but it has become more important in the post-pandemic era for several reasons. First, with test-optional policies in place, colleges need other ways to assess applicants' academic potential and readiness. Second, with the pandemic's disruption of academic and extracurricular opportunities, colleges need to understand applicants' context and circumstances. Third, with the increased diversity and complexity of the applicant pool, colleges need to appreciate applicants' unique stories and contributions.
Therefore, students should take advantage of the holistic review process to showcase their personality, passion, and potential. They should write compelling and authentic essays that reveal their voice and vision. They should ask for strong and specific letters of recommendation from teachers and counselors who know them well. They should highlight their extracurricular activities and achievements that demonstrate their skills, interests, and values. They should also explain any challenges or hardships they faced due to the pandemic or other factors, and how they overcame them.
Virtual Engagement Is the New Normal
A fourth trend in college admission is the increased use and reliance on virtual engagement. This is the use of online platforms and tools to connect with and learn about colleges and universities. These may include websites, social media, blogs, podcasts, webinars, virtual tours, online fairs, chatbots, etc.
Virtual engagement has become the new normal in the post-pandemic era for several reasons. First, with travel restrictions and health concerns, visiting campuses in person has become difficult or impossible for many students. Second, with more applicants applying to more schools, reaching out to admissions officers and current students has become more challenging and competitive. Third, with more information and resources available online, researching colleges and making decisions has become more convenient and accessible.
Therefore, students should make the most of virtual engagement opportunities to explore and demonstrate interest in their prospective schools. They should visit college websites and social media accounts to get updated information and insights. They should attend webinars and online events to learn more about academic programs, campus life, admission requirements, financial aid, etc. They should also interact with admissions officers and current students through email, chat, or video calls to ask questions and express enthusiasm.
College admission in the post-pandemic era is a dynamic and evolving process that poses many challenges and opportunities for high school students. By understanding the major trends and adapting to the changing circumstances, students can increase their chances of getting into their dream colleges. However, they should also remember that college admission is not the end goal, but a means to an end. The most important thing is to find a college that fits their needs, goals, and aspirations, and to make the most of their college experience.