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COVID-19 Likely to Leave Lasting Legacy in College Admissions

Mia Penner, Grade 10, Co-Editor-in-Chief


The Coronavirus pandemic has jolted the nation, sending shock waves through high schools and colleges and forcing them to quickly adapt to a remote schooling environment. As the country braces for a possible second wave of the virus in the fall, next year’s college admissions procedures are anything but certain, and the ambiguity may extend well beyond the 2021 school year. 

Following the establishment of stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines in several states, the College Board moved Advanced Placement exams online. The new, 45-minute virtual exams consisted of one or two free-response questions––a drastic shift from the typical three-hour format. Students at HSAS, who had been preparing for A.P. tests all year, were both excited and worried about the modified format. Many viewed the 45-minute virtual exam as an easier alternative, while others raised concerns about earning college credit. “We have all worked so hard this year in our A.P. classes,” said Marissa Edelstein [‘21]. “I hope our effort is recognized even though the test was modified.”


The College Board and the ACT have also canceled several testing dates, forcing universities to embrace test-optional policies for the class of 2021. Some current juniors have signed up to take the SAT or ACT in the fall, while others have decided not to submit a test score altogether. 

These test-optional policies may be here to stay. The University of California has already eliminated testing requirements for the class of 2022 and decided not to consider test scores for the 2023 and 2024 school years. Similarly, Tufts University is introducing a test-optional admissions policy for a three-year period. 

Despite the fact that many schools may eliminate testing requirements for good, most students at HSAS will continue to submit SAT or ACT scores. “Many students feel that if they’re applying to a highly selective school, test-optional isn’t really an option,” said Colleen Teslik, an HSAS college admissions counselor. “They feel they need to do whatever possible to stick out amongst all the applicants.”

Standardized testing is not the only thing that has been altered by the Coronavirus pandemic. Rather than visiting campuses in person, students have been touring schools from the comfort of their own homes. Many universities are offering virtual tours and panels, which often pale in comparison to in-person campus tours. Marissa Edelstein said that although virtual tours and panels are helpful, “nothing compares to actually getting to see the campus and interact with current students.” 

The economic impact of the Coronavirus may also have lasting effects on the college admissions landscape. Many students whose families were hit hard by the recession are opting to go to college in-state or to delay admission. According to a survey by Niche, 93% of college students are concerned about their financial situation, and about 20% are considering transferring or taking a semester off. “We are already seeing many students of lower socioeconomic status deciding not to attend next year due to job loss within their families,” said Ms. Teslik. 

As of now, the legacy of the Coronavirus and its impact on college admissions is unclear. Many schools may use the pandemic as a chance to permanently do away with standardized testing requirements, which would enable them to take a more holistic approach to admissions. Meanwhile, financial uncertainty may restrict some students from pursuing higher education or encourage them to attend college closer to home. Despite all of the unknowns, one thing is certain: The pandemic will permanently alter the college admissions landscape, adding to the many unexpected consequences of COVID-19. 

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