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4 Ways COVID Changed College Admissions

By Natasha de Sherbinin, Director of College Advising A-List Education, New York

Almost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown nearly every aspect of college admissions into uncertainty. Institutions are racing to adapt their policies and processes to emphasize social distancing and student safety. As a result, college admissions has changed radically, meaning that families and universities alike are placing a newfound emphasis on flexibility, grace, and understanding.

Here are just some of the ways that college admissions have changed over the last month alone.

Change #1: Campus Visits Are on Hold

Part tradition, part application strategy, college campus visits have long been a mainstay of the admissions process. However, prioritizing personal safety and social distancing means that most campus tours can no longer be accommodated. 

This can be a challenge to students, who were counting on-campus visits to show demonstrated interest and to get a feel for their top college prospects. Instead of visiting a campus, students might consider:

  • Virtual campus tours and events: Attending any institution-sponsored virtual events can help show demonstrated interest and provide you with much-needed information.
  • Reaching out to staff: Admissions officers and professors alike are more available than ever, allowing students to make contact more successfully and receive more thorough information directly from staff.
  • Follow social media feeds: Many colleges have various branches of social media (one of the art club, one for the marching band, one for the literary magazine, and so on). Following these niche social media channels can help students get a more authentic feel for life on campus.

Change #2: Deadlines Are Shifting

Most college application processes have historically operated under fairly strict deadlines. Depending on the college, many high school seniors may have been required to sign a commitment letter by May 1 of their graduating year. As a result of turmoil caused by COVID-19, many colleges are pushing back some or all of their deadlines. 

For 2020 high school seniors, many colleges have extended the commitment deadline to June 1. This will vary from institution to institution, so families should be sure to double-check all upcoming due dates.

Change #3: Grades May Be Weighted Differently

School districts are trying to help students across the country grapple with interrupted academic calendars, challenging distance learning models, and stressful environments. As a result, grades have become somewhat untethered from the classroom. Some school districts have even adopted a pass/fail grading methodology. This means that colleges will have a hard time evaluating grades from spring semester of the 2019-2020 school year.

In order to achieve a better understanding of student performance, then, college admissions offices will be looking for additional context. 

Change #4: Letters of Recommendation Have Become Essential

In the past, letters of recommendation were seen as perfunctory; many colleges used them as little more than character confirmation. But in response to the pandemic, letters of recommendation have arguably become crucial to your admissions packet. That’s because:

  • Letters of recommendation can speak to your potential, to what you may have accomplished had your semester not been interrupted.
  • With all other criteria, including tests and grades, being thrown into turmoil, letters of recommendation can provide context for student performance.
  • Letters of recommendation can indicate a student’s response to extraordinary circumstances.

More Changes Ahead

As we seek a new normal, it remains difficult to predict precisely how colleges’ admissions offices will respond to continued challenges posed by COVID-19. But we’re all in the same boat, and most colleges have emphasized grace and flexibility. 

We’re here to help you navigate these changes, adjust your admissions plan, and help you find success during these stressful times. If you want to know more about preparing for college in 2020, you can schedule a free 30 minute college admission consultation with Natasha de Sherbinin at A-List Education.


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