Dramatic Ways a Global Pandemic can affect College Admissions: What should you do?

The college admissions process on its own is a tiresome and arduous task—the added pressure of surviving a global pandemic only makes it worse.

With daily cases as a result of the COVID-19 virus reach a new high every day, uncertainties about the future remain rampant as families desperately try to make ends meet. Millions of people remain helpless as they try to protect their loved ones from the horrors of the pandemic. Amidst this, the thought of an efficient and smooth college admissions process is the last thing on a student’s mind—the same student who is probably adjusting to virtual learning or an in-person one (wearing masks and maintaining distance all the time), or a hybrid of both. On top of this, the student may also be compelled to help around the house through babysitting a sibling, working more hours at a job, and performing household chores, all while balancing school work as well.

Fortunately, many colleges have promised that these extenuating circumstances will be taken into account when admissions officers read the applications – many have included a “COVID-19 impact” prompt to their applications, through which students can explain how the pandemic has disrupted their lives—both personal and academic. Students are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity and describe all the ways the pandemic has taken a toll on their wellbeing; this can include explaining any outstanding medical bills, increased household responsibilities, absence of an adequate “study environment” for digital learning at home, extracurriculars being paused, etc.

However, many students are wondering if the pandemic will hurt (or maybe help) their admission chances. Some are questioning if colleges will accept fewer people since many freshmen opted to take a gap year during the 2020-2021 college year and reserved a spot in the 2021-2022 freshman cohort. On the other hand, colleges may want to admit more students during the binding Early Decision programs as they want to protect their high yield (percentage of applicants who accepted their offers of admission), which may have dropped as a result of the pandemic. At the end of the day, it is important to note that all of these are factors that are completely off of students’ hands. Nonetheless, there are certain things that students might be sure of…

Perhaps the biggest uncertainty is standardized testing—countless students either missed out on any opportunities to take the SAT/ACT or were hindered from taking it multiple times. As a response, multiple colleges across the U.S. have gone “test-optional” – which means that it will be up to the applicant’s discretion to submit or not submit test scores (if they have one). If an applicant decides to go test-optional, admissions officers will not penalize the student in any way; it would just mean that other parts of the application like essays and teacher recommendations will be weighed heavier than usual.

Furthermore, the disruptions extended to normal schooling as well—many high schools across the nation abruptly shifted to a pass/fail grading system or changed the grading and GPA scale mid-semester. Colleges will take this into account and will not disadvantage applicants in any way. As a rule of thumb, if these changes are not reflected on your school profile, it would be to your advantage to include this information in the additional information section of your application—a section admissions officers will pay even more attention to, than usual.

In addition to other sections being weighed more, admissions officers will look for your personality to shine in your application. This is mostly done through your biographical essay/personal statement, recommendation letters, and supplemental essays. If your extracurriculars were put on hold or your grades started dropping as a result of shifting to virtual learning, the essays are your best option to show your multifaceted potential and capabilities as a student.

Despite everything going on in the world, colleges and admissions officers will understand everyone’s situations and circumstances. This pandemic is affecting everyone—some more than the other—so you will not be disadvantaged in any way because of uncontrollable factors.

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