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Home / Blog / College Admission and COVID-19: Tests, Equities, and More

College Admission and COVID-19: Tests, Equities, and More

COVID-19 Impact on Studies: Let’s Realize What to Expect

The virus has spared none of the countries. Although it infected people, regardless of their nationality and financial status, its consequences will still be different for various communities. College campuses have not escaped from its impact, too, while they are simply closed, but the education process needs to continue. Lots of students depend on colleges and campuses.

Situation during coronavirus can teach us not only about our attitude to life but also about higher education. We know how many inequities in college admission there were last March already. And today, we all face another problem in that area. Maybe the crisis brought by COVID-19 will force us to re-evaluate admission policies and pay attention to the issues related to access and equity. According to Angel Pérez at Trinity College, COVID-19 will force us all to rethink our work while it is expected that each side of education in colleges will be under question. He also mentions that we shouldn’t underestimate the value of crisis. We should not only care about urgent needs but also think in the long run. Akil Bello at FairTest agrees with Angel Pérez. Professors say that the virus doesn’t allow them to visit campuses and makes standard testing impossible, so the colleges will need to abandon deadlines and revise the testing requirements. Below, there are some potential opportunities opened because of the crisis.

The role of COVID-19 for the early decision and early action

According to Jerry Lucido at the USC’s Rossier School of Education, only those who have privileges know how to use early decision, action, and another process’ forms. Over the last decade, early applications became very popular. College admission officers argue about early plans to be useful and what their impact on students and educational establishments is. Everyone doubts they ensure equal access. Probably, now as we have a period of social distancing, we should refuse early plans and set up one single admission deadline.

Standardized tests and COVID-19

The March SAT and College Board are already canceled by lots of test centers. The April and May administrations of the tests have canceled ACT all over the globe. Other test dates may also be changed depending on the duration of a pandemic. Yes, June and July tests may be arranged on time. However, lots of students who had to take their tests in spring will be forced to go to test centers located too far from their homes. We will face a lack of access.

According to Trinity Pérez, we will have to revise testing due to COVID-19. Moreover, families having a low income will be affected. Students from such families do not have a chance to have school counselors or independent tutors to compensate for the absence of SAT and ACT and will need to search for additional information and alternative plans, figure out everything on their own. Due to the crisis, we will need to rethink the American testing system. Some private schools still held the March SAT. There is obviously a lack of equal access and preparation.

Jonathan Burdick at Cornell University has an opposite opinion. He thinks that this increase will be positive only for those who can access top-quality information. According to Burdick, this won’t help improve access, and it is not clear what colleges should use instead of tests. All the options do not provide any access, even the increased quality of the submissions of the applications or recommendation letters. He also mentions that it is not proven that the cancellation of standardized tests will improve access. Burdick believes it will be improved for selective colleges only.

College visits VS Pandemic

The opportunities of visiting campuses are limited for students now due to pandemic. When students come for an interview or visit campuses, institutions consider it as an expression of interest. Now students are almost shackled by the spread of COVID-19 and the lack of means to pay. Some students do not have an opportunity to pay or live in the impacted areas, so we should think of virtual tours or other alternatives for them.

Jenny Rickard and Heath Einstein (executive director of Common App and dean of admission at Texas Christian University) agree that COVID-19 will make us all express our creativity and think more deeply about the problem. Even during good times, lots of applicants come from low-income families and do not have any opportunities to visit campuses. Such alternatives will equal opportunities for all students.

The impact of COVID-19 on admission travels

This spring, a large number of admissions was already canceled by NACAC due to the impossibility of physical distancing. Once again, it is a chance to review the recruitment practices and the ways of allocation of the resources by admission offices. The New York Times research by Ozan Jaquette and Karina Salazar conducted in 2018 highlights that colleges accept students from wealthier areas. The admission offices should focus on other tools of recruitment now with the aim of creating a range of applicants who represent our society better.

Some people are anticipating the changes in admission to colleges caused by the crisis. Andy Borst at the University of Illinois is sure that the crisis will open new opportunities for online admission for us all. He is excited to imagine the times when a rural school student is able to schedule a face-to-face meeting with an admission officer in real-time, no matter in what part of the country he is. He also would love to see students who couldn’t have access to direct information due to time zone or anything else, being able to access a wide range of new content. Borst mentioned that such resources exist already; however, we will be forced to review our daily operations due to COVID-19. We may perceive the crisis not as a crisis but as a chance for improvement in many areas.

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David Hess at Elgin High School in Illinois says that their school comprises almost 3000 students. More than 80% of them are students of color, and 75% are low-income ones. Most of these students who enter the college are the first in their families who do it. According to Hess, the school doesn’t have good post-secondary counselors; however, these students are really eager to attend college even though they lack information. Thanks to COVID-19, we need to rethink our policy on access and equity. These students need to know more about the admission process.

Intensive and personalized college counseling gives more opportunities for low-income students, studies have shown. According to the ASCA (American School Counselor Association) recommendation, one counselor should not consult more than 250 students. However, according to the statistics of the Department of Education, the real ratio is 464 to 1. It means that more than 11 high school students do not have sufficient access to a counselor.

We need not only virtually learning but also more counseling resources. Since high school students cannot travel now, some college admission offices provide online counseling for them. Still, many students do not have any personalized guidance, and we should help them.

Hess says we need to reach and support more low-income students while it is not about access only but equity also. This crisis should help us improve college completion affecting low-income students.


Del Pilar calls colleges for considering the possibilities to involve students outside their classrooms. Lots of students will suffer because of the necessary precaution’s cancellation. He mentions that we need to ask how this will affect students of color and low-income students. And we should do it not only because of crisis but because this is a reality for lots of students during the college admission process. Many applicants face barriers while they need to pay for different extracurricular activities and athletic programs. As a result, many students do not have such resources to participate in the events outside the classroom.

Hess tells about a low-income senior who wanted to become an engineer. This girl didn’t dare to apply to selective colleges even for some reason. In summer, the girl had to watch her siblings for almost 12 hours a day because her parents worked. Moreover, during her school year, she also stays with them two hours per day after school. Now, during the spread of COVID-19 and total lockdown, the number of such students who need to help at home will be much higher. The MCC project at the HGSE (Harvard Graduate School of Education) highlights these issues. Their second report on college admission contains a statement approved by over 140 college admission deans and reinforcing the importance of contributions to community and family. According to Richard Weissbourd at HGSE, the arrangement of out-of-school activities in colleges is often unequal and unfair. Underrepresented students spend their time, not as the rest of students, and more colleges should pay attention to it. A lot of such students provide for their families, so they need to work for many years, or they simply take care of some family members, and it is necessary to find other ways of delivering these values to students. Their hard work and efforts need to be counted by admission committees.

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Affordability and the crisis

Even in good times, a vast number of students and their families cannot afford higher education. Apart from the virus threatening our health and lives, we are going to face essential economic impact in the coming year. According to Cornell’s Burdick, we will face decreased asses due to financial pressure. The financial pressure on higher education establishments is huge, and it will not help access at all. More campuses will go out of business very fast if the financial stress is significant enough. The least selective (and in some aspect, more accessible) institutions will hardly survive. The crisis forces everyone to think of new ways out while the loan interest of students has been frozen, and they are going to forgive students’ debts and provide free colleges.

According to the director of the undergraduate admission at Georgia Tech Rick Clark, in terms of the pandemic, we have to think of more options for students and make their admission easier. He mentioned that possibly, we should think of a combination of both online and in-person possibilities for students. It would also be good to lower the prices for tuition online. And in case we are able to open access in times of crisis, we must review the ways of colleges to open their doors to people who couldn’t think it was ever possible. And it concerns the most selective colleges, most of all. Both Clark and Pérez agree that educational establishments might need to consider admission patterns due to COVID-19. According to Pérez, it is necessary to remain traditional concerning the dates of the start and end of the semester. Weissbourd at Harvard proposed to think about changing the academic cycle and the delivery of the program to students who cannot enroll on the campuses this year. Possibly, we should think of other teaching methods. As he says, lots of selective colleges can provide amazing and more affordable pathways to undergraduate degrees. The professor proposed to imagine a mixture of two years of the traditional college experience and another two years of field experience in the country or abroad and online courses, which are less expensive. Highly selective colleges brag that they admit just a few people but instead. It would be much better if they could be proud of a vast number of people they managed to educate. It is a good time to change traditions.

The future of college admission

Lucido at USC mentioned two critical realities, i.e., the consequences of coronavirus and the future of college admission. According to his words, colleges need sufficient revenue to operate. They depend on resources, and naturally, they will want to have students able to pay. The institutions need to be supported. Lucido says that the question is whether the educational establishments will really accept those students brought to them and what is to be done so they could make those changes.

As Jenny Rickard at Common App mentioned, the virus is only increasing the inequities in the college-search process for low-income students. The educational establishments need to implement all the necessary changes so all those students could access and be welcomed in those colleges and universities. And, moreover, once the pandemic is over and students can visit campuses again, the educational establishments need to do everything to ensure every student to experience campuses personally (virtually or physically) regardless of their financial situation.

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Admission to colleges and universities is to be rethought. This system was designed not for access or equity. Modern society is educated, and it wants the system to be redesigned. If COVID-19 makes us think differently on everything and examining our relationships and attitude to each other and social life in general, then why would we not reconsider the attitude to college enrollment? Thanks to current problems, all the inequities, and vulnerabilities of our society are now revealed. According to Pérez, one of the slowest institutions on Earth is higher education. And the virus is the key factor making us think to change it.

However, look on the bright side – this pandemic leads to support and collaboration within the admission profession. Colleagues in different educational establishments share their resources and keep being focused on students. They are adjusting to challenges in a very inspiring way. We really can hope for a better system for accessing colleges and universities. Students in our country need us currently more than ever, so we will keep supporting them no matter what.

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