The Future of College Admissions during a Global Pandemic

By Rani B. ’21

Just one month ago, the Class of 2021 was faced with typical junior problems: needing to find a prom outfit, studying for the ACT, and preparing for their dreaded junior spring. However, these seemed much less important after the rise and spread of COVID-19, and especially after colleges sent their entire student bodies home and canceled admissions events until the late summer and the fall. The College Board has also made several changes to standardized test dates and formats. As a junior, I really only started to process these monumental changes when I received emails about cancellations for college tours I had scheduled over spring break. Soon after, the College Board altered the dates and formats for AP exams, and the ACT was canceled in April and moved to June. 

The next few months are typically the prime time for juniors to get to know colleges and start to narrow down their college lists. We are also starting to become leaders in our schools and communities and getting ready to say goodbye to our senior friends. With the added complication of the coronavirus, will college deadlines change? Are interviews over Zoom possible? What if I can’t bring my grades up? When can I visit schools? 

Having taken only two college tours, in March I became highly concerned that when the fall came around many juniors would be unprepared to start applying for schools, and I wouldn’t be able to narrow down my list. However, I was not alone; several other members of the Class of 2021 are also very worried about the consequences of the global pandemic as an obstacle in the college process. Since March, colleges developed virtual admissions events and have been able to move online.

Anya Hanitchak ’21 commented that for her and other athletes, trying to be recruited has become more difficult since their spring season has been canceled. “In general, our year is probably at a disadvantage [since] only some colleges have made tests optional. With it being unknown how grading will work this semester, I think it’s really easy to get stressed about how our transcripts will look to colleges as well.” Winsor has since announced that [explain grading system], but athletes remain concerned about their college futures without this crucial time to show their athletic talent.

Reah Donohue ’21 expressed her concerns about tests, “I know I’m scheduled to take the ACT this June and I’m worried it’s going to be canceled. If it’s canceled, then I have to take it at a later date which not only has its own risk of being canceled, but also gives me fewer chances to retake it if I need to. Basically it’s even more difficult for colleges to get an accurate representation of applicants because less information is being provided.” So far the ACT has not canceled this June date but there is a definite possibility of it being canceled. 

Another concern that Mya Salazar ’21 voiced was that “I think one of the biggest concerns is that I won’t have time to visit schools now. For me, visiting the schools in person is a really important way for me to tell whether or not I like the feel of it.”

I participated in an interview via Zoom on March 26, organized by the Boston Globe’s John Vitti, talking to admissions officers from Boston College, UMass Lowell, St. Anselm College, and Mount Holyoke College, and got some answers to juniors’ questions.

A personal concern of mine, echoing Salazar’s, was that, although there are info sessions and virtual tours available on college websites, they are quite impersonal and do not replicate the campus culture or the experience of having a student tour guide. Grant Gosselin, the Director of Undergraduate Admissions at BC, commented on this concern: “I think [the approach to will vary widely from college to college. With that being said, the best way to understand a college’s culture is by interacting with current students. Right now, many colleges are using live webinars or chat features to engage admitted students with current students.” He also noted that admitted seniors are the first priority for many colleges right now, but when June 1st passes, there will be more attention paid to prospective students.

When asked about the importance of extracurriculars and AP Exams in next year’s application considerations, Gosselin said that Boston College’s intention is to “move forward honoring those scores as we have in the past,” and he “doesn’t think that these extracurriculars [i.e. sports, clubs] will hold any less weight.”

Since the economy has been severely affected by the rise of COVID-19, there is also a definite possibility that there will be a recalculation of financial aid packages in the coming years. Gosselin commented that “it will impact every college and university out there,” and response will vary by institution. 

Regarding the review of applications and “gaps” from missing spring extracurriculars or having pass/fail grades due to COVID-19, all of the admissions officers said that they would continue to look holistically, or with a grain of salt, at applications. 

In response to another question about the possibility of college students not returning to campus in the fall of 2021, Michael Iorio, the Assistant Vice President of Admissions at St. Anselm College noted that “nothing is off the table,” and  “we are capable of making this work, even if it is virtual.” 

Ms. Jennifer Graham, one of Winsor’s College Counselors, explained, “the good news is that every high school junior in the country is in the same boat. While no one knows what the fall admission cycle will look like, I can assure you that colleges understand the circumstances and will make adjustments in their processes accordingly. In addition, admission officers understand that many students may not be able to participate in their extracurricular or summer activities at the same level, so their expectations about student involvement will change. 

She also noted how “The quarantine also offers some opportunities for students to explore interests that they may not have had time to pursue – hobbies, reading, cooking, reading for pleasure, knitting (shout out to Ms. Stern), etc.” She also expressed sentiments similar to the admissions officers I interviewed in regards to colleges’ flexibility about standardized testing and noted that she is already seeing a lot of schools relax test requirements.

Lastly, since this global pandemic has dire effects for everyone, Doug Seed, the Assistant Director of Admissions at UMass Lowell, said, “every applicant is going to have some unique circumstance for this situation, and in no way will this ever be held against a student.” The other admissions officers agreed with this statement and added that there could be changes to application deadlines and requirements. One example of a policy that has since stemmed from the pandemic is a new (optional) question on the Common Application inviting students to share how COVID-19 has impacted them. Many schools have become test-optional for the 2020-2021 applicant pool, but the future of college admissions is largely unknown. 

Although there are several serious consequences for both colleges and prospective students during this pandemic, all of the admissions officers agreed that we are in this together. They will take this major disruption to students’ lives into account for the Class of 2021 and all other grades to come.