How COVID-19 is changing college admissions


Despite the cancelation of in-person college tours because of COVID-19, students can still virtually learn more about a school. Online tours often offer a 360-degree view of the campus and a virtual guide that talks about the college. (Screenshot of a virtual University of Missouri’s Speaker’s Circle from a YouVisit tour)

By Stephanie Mosqueda, Features Editor

As Ann Duong opened her computer in March, she noticed an email from the College Board — it said that her June SAT was canceled due to COVID-19. After months of studying and preparation, Duong had to reschedule her SAT and has to take it months later. Now, COVID-19 is not only changing the way she learns and attends school, but it is also changing her college application process. 

Back in March, when cases of COVID-19 began to increase in the United States, ACT postponed their April test and the College Board canceled their May SAT to help lessen people’s exposure to the virus. Since the number of cases did not decrease in the following months, the June SAT was canceled and the June and July ACTs were administered to a limited number of students

Because of changes caused by COVID-19, many colleges have altered their admission process by becoming test-optional and offering virtual tours to make the process accessible for students.   

The cancelation of multiple tests, including the CPS-scheduled April 14 SAT, has prevented some seniors, including Duong, Div. 170, from taking a test. According to Ms. Kerri Thompson, Lane’s Programming Director, the Illinois State Board of Education requires public-school 11th graders to take the SAT, therefore making it a CPS requirement. In order to give seniors an opportunity to fulfill the CPS SAT requirement, Lane has scheduled an SAT test for Sept. 23 and Oct. 27. 

Additionally, many colleges have decided to become test-optional to accommodate students who have not been able to take a test. According to The New York Times, there were only about 24 colleges that changed their test requirements back in May. But now, according to a list of schools that have become test-optional because of COVID-19 compiled by Expert Admissions, more colleges have made the change.

Along with impacting standardized testing for high school students, COVID-19 has also altered the way that students get to know college campuses.

According to IvyWise, college visits are an important part of the college admissions process. Tours and fly-in programs help students visualize themselves on campus and ask questions that are not answered online. But in March, some of these in-person visits were also canceled. 

Sofia Pulido, Div. 183, was one of those students whose trips and tours got canceled earlier this year.

In March, Pulido planned to visit the University of Iowa but two weeks before her trip, she got an email from the admissions office telling her that the trip was canceled. Not being able to go on the trip devastated Pulido, especially since it is one of her top colleges.

“I understood the circumstances and the fact that it was canceled because of COVID-19, but it has impacted my view of the school,” Pulido said. “Now, I do not know what to expect from it because it almost feels like I have no idea where I am applying.”

To make it possible for students to get a feel of their campuses and to make it up to students with canceled events, colleges have made their tours and fly-in programs virtual. The tours are offered through colleges’ sites or through websites like CampusTours and YouVisit

With these tours, students can familiarize themselves with the campus, faculty and the different resources that the school offers. According to The New York Times, some colleges and websites even allow students to send in questions during the tour for admissions officers to answer later.

Journalist Megan Greenwell, Co-director of and Counselor at the Princeton Summer Journalism Program has been working with students all summer. She says that because tours and fly-in programs are now online, students question if it is even worth applying to those programs. To Greenwell, though, these opportunities are definitely worth it, as they give students a chance to learn more about the colleges they are interested in and serve as a demonstration of interest, which, according to Greenwell, is always helpful.

Because of the impact that COVID-19 has had on many students, Common App added a section where students can explain how the coronavirus has affected both their personal and academic lives.

Duong and Pulido both plan to use this section. To them, this addition will ensure that colleges get to learn more about students’ life and obstacles, which are things that might not be translated through their application alone. 

While all students are able to use the Common App’s new COVID-19 section, Greenwell said that students should not write in that box just because they can. 

“I think that taking that box seriously would be a really good thing to do. But if the worst thing that has happened to you during all this is that you have been stuck and bored at home, please do not fill that out,” Greenwell said. 

Apart from filling out Common App’s COVID-19 section, Greenwell recommends that seniors talk to their friends to figure out what makes them unique. By doing this, they can make sure that their special qualities are reflected in their essays, making their applications stronger.

Pulido and Greenwell both advise seniors to not be afraid to write about their struggles and personal experiences because those are what make an application stand out. Additionally, Greenwell wants students to know that writing about those hard times will not result in a sob story — it will actually be a story of triumph.

“Colleges literally see thousands of applications from students who have achieved things, but a lot of those students have achieved things with all of the advantages that life has to offer,” Greenwell said. “So if you have gone to that same place and have gotten there without all the advantages that life has to offer, that is a really powerful story, and I think that that is going to be compelling to colleges this year.”