Every year, thousands of students around the world prepare to submit their college applications. There are so many steps that they have to follow. They have to write an essay that will set them apart from other student applicants. They have to obtain letters of recommendation. More importantly, they have to keep their grades up and participate in extracurricular activities to prove that they are worthy of being granted a place in their dream university.
It is a long and often stressful process. Students typically begin sending their applications during the summer between their junior and senior years of high school. However, preparations for it start even earlier. There is a lot of pressure among students during this period. Everyone, of course, wants to be accepted to their dream university.
COVID-19 added more stress to the process.
College Admissions During the Pandemic
The global public health crisis in the past year has disrupted everyday life. What once was normal suddenly became a health and safety hazard, forcing people to change their habits and routines. School is one of the first to be shut down after COVID-19, a deadly virus, started spreading across the United States.
Millions of American students were asked to go back home and take their classes online. Everyone suddenly had to adjust to distance learning.
There are also other sources of disruptions that occur. One was the economic fallout from the pandemic that left many adults unemployed and many businesses closed down. Another was the social justice protests that occurred in response to the deaths of Black Americans in the hands of the authorities.
These events create lasting changes that will impact aspects of life, including how universities accept student applications. In fact, in the past year, many academic institutions came up with ways to assess prospective students.
However, the biggest change is in testing.
For the longest time, colleges have relied on standardized testing to evaluate if students are the right fit for their respective campuses. This is not a practice exclusive to the U.S. Many other countries around the world have a similar system in place to assess whether students are ready for higher education.
All colleges have their own requirements. Aside from testing scores, they also look at high school grades, application essays, recommendation letters, and extracurricular activities. Many also conduct interviews. But, test scores play a major role in a person’s likelihood of being accepted or not.
That is why, when the pandemic hit, testing became a challenge. During the first months of the pandemic, students had difficulties accessing the SAT and CAT. Sessions were canceled because of fear of spreading the virus. This led to changes in testing policies. FairTest revealed that over 1,600 institutions were test-optional or test-blind for 2022.
When institutions became test-optional and test-blind, applications soared. Harvard received 57,435 applications from students across the nation — a 43 percent increase from the year before. Meanwhile, Columbia received 60,551 applications — a 51 percent surge from the year prior.
The removal of test scores as a basis for admission meant that more students would be qualified for their selected programs. Even if their SAT or CAT score is not impressive, it will not affect the student’s chances of being accepted. The school will instead look at the student’s background, skills, grades, and other measures of their academic performance.
That does not mean they will all be accepted. In Texas State University, for example, the average GPA is 3.35. Student applicants are required to include their GPA on their submission. It is a school that selects its students with particular considerations and precision. In 2018, the acceptance rate at Texas State University was 70.84 percent.
Ivy League schools, which are notoriously hard to get into, accept even fewer students. While Harvard’s and Columbia’s applications increased, the acceptance rates in these institutions decreased. Harvard only admitted 3.4 percent of undergraduate applicants. Columbia, only 3.7 percent.
Encouraged but Not Required
Many schools plan to have testing optional for at least another year. Likely, these institutions will see another surge of applications from students. However, while this has opened opportunities for more students to be admitted to highly selective schools, many experts are still encouraging applicants to take their admission tests if safe.
A large number of applicants make college admissions more competitive than ever. Those who submit their test scores gain an advantage over other students.
COVID-19 has definitely changed college admissions. No one knows if these shifts, including reduced reliance on standardized testing, will last longer or be removed once the pandemic is over.