Applying to College During A Pandemic

Gracie Marcinczyk, Staff Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic has largely altered almost every aspect of everyday life. With mask mandates, social distancing, and cancelled after school events, going to school has become a completely different process than the one students have grown accustomed to over the years. The college application process has, as a result, been greatly impacted by these changes. In person meetings with guidance counselors have been prohibited this school year, and the majority of college tours and visits have been cancelled, making the entire process much more stressful and confusing.

While many have thought that these difficulties are over with, as the application process is now finished, this is not necessarily true. COVID-19 has not only greatly affected college applications, but has affected college admissions, too. In fact, the common belief that the pandemic has made it easier to get into college is not very accurate, as it has actually made it harder. This is a result of several factors: schools becoming test-optional, high school seniors from the previous year now applying with this year’s seniors, and a growing emphasis on application essays.

The choice to apply test-optional has caused dramatic increases in the number of applications received by schools, especially top colleges and universities that tend to be more competitive. This is due to the fact that schools who have traditionally required the submission of standardized test scores and made them optional this year have given students the opportunity to apply and be considered even if their test score is not as high as those of other applicants. The early action acceptance rate for Harvard University, for example, decreased from 13.9% to 7.4%. In addition, Harvard’s number of applicants hit a record high. At Yale, the acceptance rate decreased from 14% to 11%, and the total number of applications increased by 38%, also hitting a record high. This trend can be seen in public universities and non-Ivy League schools, too. UCONN received more than 36,000 applications, a total that they have never reached before. These surges in application volumes have also made acceptance rates decrease significantly, as more people are applying for a very limited number of spots at these institutions. Stamford High School guidance counselor Jonathan Ortiz described this situation, stating, “Since many colleges and universities made it optional for students to submit standardized test scores, I believe they had many more applications received. That might have helped some students be considered a bit more seriously than if they applied in previous application cycles.”

In addition to the increases in applications received by colleges and universities, the admissions process has become more competitive because of students from the previous year who chose to defer and instead begin in the fall of 2021. Many decided to choose this route because of difficulties created by the pandemic, with one of the greatest being the cost of tuition. As tuition costs continue to increase year by year, many struggle to find funds to cover a college education, especially after the pandemic worsened the financial situation for families and students. This goes hand in hand with students not wanting to have to spend their first year of college online and pay thousands of dollars for an education received through a screen. As a result, those who deferred and have decided to attend college starting in the fall of 2021 have applied with current high school seniors, making it even harder to get into schools. At Dartmouth, 172 students admitted to the Class of 2024 decided to defer their enrollment for a year, which decreases the total number of spots available to applicants this year.

While many aspects of the college application and admissions process have been altered by the pandemic, making it more difficult to be accepted into these institutions, many other factors remained equally as important as in previous years. GPAs, teacher recommendations, and extracurricular activities were still as significant in applications, and there has been a growing emphasis on quality personal and supplemental essays. These essays provided schools with more insight into the student and helped them set some apart from others.

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly altered the college application and admissions process, making it harder to get into schools, especially more competitive and elite institutions, but has also left the process unchanged in numerous ways.

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