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How COVID-19 is Impacting Admissions

As with so many aspects of American life, the coronavirus has completely disrupted the traditional college admissions process. High school and college campuses and have sent students home and moved to on-line learning at almost a flip-of-the-coin speed. Students and families have accepted the new normal with continued hopes of getting back to their traditional learning environments. For students who have been admitted to the Class of 2024 or who intend to apply to the Class of 2025, it will be paramount to stay abreast of the rapid changes forced by the pandemic, as difficult as that may be.


Decisions Confronting Seniors

Most seniors have received decision notifications and made their final decisions as to which college they intend to enroll in the fall. Many colleges have announced they have extended the Common Reply Date to June 1 in order to give seniors more time to consider their options and make final decisions. And other colleges who haven’t extended their date have stated that they will consider extensions on an as needed basis.


Physical meetings including campus visits, Admitted Students Days, and interviews, have been halted, leaving many students to make choices “site unseen”. Almost all colleges have stepped up their game in the virtual world with virtual campus tours and information sessions, giving students greater access than ever to on-line immersion to better understand colleges’ educational and social environments. Students have transitioned to their new normal world of Zoom efficiently, allowing them to congregate together, at least on their screens.


And now, the wait. Rising college freshman wait to see if their colleges will conduct classes in person or if they will go to an on-line learning format in the fall. While no colleges have announced that they will be open for normal on-campus operations in the fall, many; i.e., UGA, Radford, University of Alabama, and Purdue, have publicly committed to attempt some type of in-person learning in the fall. Most colleges still hold out hope but will wait until early to mid-summer to make final decisions regarding fall campus life. At this point, it still seems likely that some classes will be online in September. This has led to a growing controversy brought about by families getting far less than they’re paying for when their children are engaged in online learning rather than the full on-campus college experience. For example, annual tuition at Harvard is $51, 925. Annual tuition at an online-only college, either for-profit or not-for-profit, is less than 20% of Harvard’s cost. Although the faculty at Harvard is clearly far superior to that of an online-only institution, the learning experience is inferior because the platforms, tools, and teaching methods used by Harvard were patched together on an ad hoc basis while the online colleges have had years to build more reliable and feature-rich delivery systems. And yet Harvard has announced that they will be open in the fall semester whether classes are conducted online or in classrooms. Many students attending Harvard and other selective and highly selective colleges aren’t looking forward to being overcharged for such a lackluster learning environment, however profitable it may be for the colleges themselves.


While most students hold out hope of moving into their dorm rooms as planned in the fall, many seniors are wondering if they should consider a gap year or deferral in light of the potential at home learning environment vs. the full on campus college experience. Students must carefully weight the pros and cons of on-line vs. in person learning at their schools. While on-line learning may give students the opportunity to get a strong academic start without the usual distractions that accompany the first semester in college and allow for graduation in four years as originally planned, students will also be missing out on dorm life, managing their time, and all the personal interaction through dining halls, clubs, teams, and other activities outside the classroom. However, for a student who is immune compromised, waiting a semester to avoid potential COVID exposure is the healthier option. Families ponder the pros and coms of their decisions and ultimately have to do what’s best for them personally as well as financially.


Decisions Confronting Juniors

With SAT and ACT exams being cancelled into the summer, the cessation of spring testing has had two significant ramifications. First, it has encouraged many more colleges to adopt test-optional policies, although numerous schools, including many top tier institutions like Yale and Stanford, continue to require either the ACT or SAT scores for consideration. It is important to appreciate the full impact of test-optional policies. Your decision to not submit scores could affect your chances of admission. Understanding if this is the right decision for you is paramount since the lack of scores could have a negative influence on your chances of admissions. It may also have an adverse effect on potential merit aid, which is often awarded based on test scores.


A second outcome has been the announcement by the ACT and SAT organizations that they are developing digital versions of the tests for students to take at home in case they’re necessary in the fall. This solution is already controversial. One recent article (NYT, April 15, by Anemona Hartocollis and Dana Goldstein) reported concerns and warnings from critics and testing experts who feel that these tests could exacerbate inequality, raise privacy issues and make it easier to cheat. Both ACT and SAT testing organizations are looking at ways to control cheating. SAT is considering holding tests with live proctors where they can closely monitor students’ behavior in a Zoom format; while ACT is considering software that detects eye movement from screen to keyboard. Scores could be disqualified if eye movement strays beyond their device, although such a feature is likely to be challenged. Many colleges are considering if they will accept or give full weight to tests that were taken in an at-home environment.


The following two questions are prominent among those that juniors need to address before applying next fall:


How might the pandemic affect the colleges to which I plan to apply?

Colleges are losing money. Their endowments have been reduced and income from them has dropped. Alumni fund-raising has declined, and philanthropic contributions have slowed to a trickle. Research projects have been placed on hiatus. As a result, Federal payments for research have ceased. In some cases, part of room & board and tuition has been refunded to spring semester students. Tuition revenue is expected to decline in the fall. Colleges estimate that they’ve suffered losses in the tens of millions this spring and they’re preparing for even larger losses in the fall.


Given the uncertainty caused by their financial predicament, it’s difficult to forecast the future offerings of colleges regarding curricula, majors and programs, campus amenities, extracurricular activities, non-revenue sports, and other aspects of the college experience. Additionally, if colleges allow large numbers of students to take a gap year amidst the uncertainty of this year, this will affect acceptances for the students who apply to be freshmen in 2021. It’s become more challenging than ever for you to select the right colleges.


How might my own needs and preferences shift as a result of the pandemic?

In dealing with pandemic and post-pandemic conditions, you may have concerns about your own financial resources as well as your familial responsibilities. You may be reluctant to incur a large student debt given the lack of clarity in employment potential. It may become more challenging to obtain scholarships and grants. Due to such unforeseen factors, you may prefer to stay closer to home, change your planned major, apply to less expensive schools, or postpone college.


To stay abreast of on-going updates to the COVID-19 crisis, follow Aspire College and Career Consulting on Facebook or check out the Resources page on my website, www.aspirecollegeconsulting.com.


Aspire College and Career Consulting has over ten years of experience in guiding students to admission to the colleges that fit them best given each student’s own set of personal circumstances and goals. We plan to constantly update our knowledge of admissions conditions during the pandemic’s turbulent run so we can continue to provide the quality of services that you deserve. Your success in meeting your educational and career goals is our success as well.

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