Changes to the College Admissions Process in the COVID-19 World

In a year when very little has felt normal, applying for college might look different for many students—and college admissions teams are responding to the challenges. What exactly does this mean, and how are college admissions teams considering the pandemic in selecting the class of 2025? One of the biggest changes is that most American colleges are not requiring applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores for Fall 2021 admissions.

Prior to 2020, many colleges had test-optional policies, along with varied policies regarding the admissions of students without standardized test scores. Currently, more than two-thirds of colleges and universities are waiving the testing requirements for those applying in 2021. Removing such a requirement can help students who are unable to safely get to an open testing center or who are already stressed academically.

While some institutions are test-blind, meaning they do not look at SAT or ACT scores as part of the admissions process, test-optional schools are not reliant on a standardized test score to make an admissions decision. According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, more than 1,570 schools are test-optional for 2021. There are currently 67 schools with a test-blind policy and, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 500 schools have said that test-optional truly means that they will not penalize students for the absence of a standardized test score. When filling out applications, it’s a good practice to note if a school is test-optional or test blind.

Admissions offices know that the extremely important junior year of high school has been negatively impacted for students applying for Fall 2021 acceptance. In June, more than 350 college admissions deans put out a statement, “Care Counts in Crisis: College Deans Respond to COVID-19,” recognizing how different things are this year and encouraging students in self-care, balance, meaningful learning, and caring for others. The statement includes five key areas that deans believe will impact the college admissions process for the fall and encourages students to share their pandemic experiences in their college essays.

While we don’t know what the future of college admissions will look like—or how standardized testing requirements might change—we do know that schools are re-thinking their admissions policies. For those students applying to college, we recommend confirming the admissions process with each individual institution for 2021.

Article written by Erin Blair

Erin Blair
Erin Koster Blair serves as a Senior Manager of Academic Affairs for WorldStrides. She holds a MA in History and a BA in History and American Studies. Her interests are in immersive career exploration opportunities and social emotional learning. Ms. Blair was a high school social studies teacher and she has worked in museum education and at summer camps.