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Recent Developments in College Admissions Due to COVID-19

A 2020 graduate in her cap and gown wearing a yellow protective face mask.

A quick note: Spark Admissions is 100% operational during this time! While we are sad we cannot see you in person, know that we are here for you via phone and video conferencing. If you’re a current client, feel free to reach out to our team directly. If you’re interested in learning more about our services, please inquire about our free consultations.

Below, you can find the latest information about how COVID-19 is affecting the process for preparing for, applying to, and attending college in the United States. We will be updating this post as new information arises, so please check back often to stay on top of the latest developments!

Standardized Testing

The closure of schools and the uncertainty around next steps due to coronavirus have dramatically changed the standardized testing landscape. Both the College Board (which runs the SAT and the AP exams) and the ACT are scrambling to adapt to changing circumstances.

As you likely know by now, AP exams have been converted to free-response tests that will last under an hour and can be taken at home. The College Board is providing online study tools for students whose high school learning has been disrupted or halted.

With the June 2020 SAT test date recently cancelled, both the SAT and ACT are adding test dates for the summer and fall. Although neither has ever offered online, at-home test options before, they both say they are prepared to do so if test centers cannot open in the fall.

Meanwhile, colleges across the country are rapidly changing their testing requirements for 2020-2021 applicants. Given the immense disruption to the test schedule caused by COVID-19, many colleges and universities have made the SAT and ACT optional for applicants in 2020-2021. Some have even gone permanently test-optional. See our list of which schools have made such an announcement.

Furthermore, guidance counselors and other interested parties are continuing to lobby colleges and universities to reevaluate their admissions criteria if there are further disruptions to these tests. Those efforts indicate that there more changes are likely to arise in the coming months.

That said, be aware that many very selective schools would still like to see your scores if you have them! While we can’t know what will happen, we do know that a high score is always an advantage. Rising seniors will likely have preferential registration for the next available test dates, so our advice is to keep studying and preparing for the test!

Visiting Colleges & Demonstrating Interest

For current high school juniors, the closure of college campuses and cancelling of tours and information sessions is one of the most frustrating and difficult impacts of the public health crisis on the college admissions process. Visiting schools is an exciting process, as students start to truly imagine themselves on a college campus. COVID-19 has put these visits on hold.

Colleges’ transition to online information sessions and tours started slow, but it’s picked up immense speed in the past week or two. Now, you can find dozens of schools offering online information sessions and tours through sites like To find these opportunities, search for “[School Name] + online information session” or “[School Name] + online tour.” Or you can check the front page of admissions websites!

Registering for these events will help you demonstrate interest to your schools. But what about finding the right fit? A recent piece in the New York Times laid out the struggle that many high school students are feeling right now. But, while you can’t be there in person, there are still numerous ways to figure out if a school is right for you:

Take a virtual tour. Even remotely, you’ll get a sense of what the campus looks and feels like. Pay close attention and take notes on anything that stands out to you.

Sign up to receive colleges’ emails. You should do this anyway, to show colleges you’re interested, but it’s especially imperative right now as things change so fast. If they introduce a new virtual way to engage, you don’t want to miss it!

Make a list of appealing courses. What kinds of courses are offered in your intended major? How do they differ across schools? Are there areas of specialization within the major? Read course catalogs and look at department websites.

Make a list of interesting clubs. You won’t only be studying in college, so take a few minutes to research the extracurriculars in which you’d participate at different colleges, too. Which schools have clubs or organizations that particularly appeal to you?

Read student newspapers and connect with current students. We always advise students visiting schools in person to pick up a copy of the student paper; fortunately, you can also do that online! Additionally, you should be on the lookout for opportunities to chat virtually with current students. These connections are invaluable in getting to know what students’ lives are really like at different schools.

Ultimately, while visiting schools is fun and exciting, students always need to do a lot of research at home. The current situation just makes that necessity all the more obvious.

Keeping Your Academics Going

High schools around the country are taking all kinds of different routes to finishing the year. While you should pay attention to whatever your current teachers and school administrators assign, you may also want to consider the following forms of academic enrichment and preparation:

Online classes. Both Coursera and EdX offer free higher-level courses adapted to online, self-paced learning, including many Advanced Placement courses. These courses are an excellent way to supplement your learning or explore a new topic.

Khan Academy. Khan Academy also offers a wide variety of online academic resources for students and their families. Their free “Keep Learning” resources are an excellent source for both students and parents dealing with distance learning.

Summer session courses. Although most in-person summer programs on college campuses have been cancelled, many colleges and universities have moved their for-credit classes and versions of their non-credit summer opportunities online. If you meet the requirements, you can still sign up for a summer class at Harvard, Tufts, Georgetown, Cornell, and others.

Citizen research projects. Not all learning takes place in a classroom! Online platforms like Zooniverse offer ways for people of all ages to participate in real research projects. History buffs can also check out the Smithsonian and the National Archives.

Maintaining Physical and Emotional Health

Amid all the stress and uncertainty of this period, you don’t want to run yourself even more ragged worrying about how colleges are going to think. As we’ve expressed elsewhere, this is not the time to freak out. All high school students are in the same boat right now, so anything you do to keep up with school or to stay engaged in your community is a worthwhile pursuit.

If you’re getting a little stir-crazy, though, here are some ideas:

Keep up with volunteering. Of course, you can’t go to the sites where you usually help out, but there are still things you can do from afar. Consider setting up virtual activities for kids stuck at home, joining an online tutoring service, using your skills to raise money for healthcare workers and food banks, organizing a phone bank for a political cause, or organizing virtual “visits” to nursing homes.

Take some time to read for fun. In the throes of the academic year, it can seem impossible to read for pleasure, but catching up on novels, essays, criticism, and long-form journalism (NOT about coronavirus!) can provide excellent fodder for your eventual application essays. Plus, it’s a great way to keep your mind active and engaged.

Stay physically active. Mental and physical health are intertwined. If you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, make time to be active. If you can walk or jog outside, that’s a great option; if not, there are tons of online classes, from yoga to kickboxing, that can help you be active even if you’re stuck inside.

A note on that last one: if you’re hoping to be recruited to a college for athletics, make sure you’re staying in shape! Even though you can’t have regular practices, you can still work on your skills and overall fitness while at home. Consider filming yourself practicing certain skills so you have material to send to coaches over the summer.

Attending College in the Fall

Lastly, we also know current seniors and undergraduate students are anxious about whether colleges will reopen in the fall. With deadlines to commit approaching, colleges are under increasing pressure to state what their plans are for the 2020-2021 school year.

While we won’t know anything until the summer, you can read about the most recent declarations and what to expect at Inside Higher Ed.

Wherever you are in your college journey, we know this is a stressful time. If you have any questions or want guidance on any of these issues, give us a call.

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