With the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacting college admissions, there are bound to be some notable differences between this year and last year for prospective college students. The global pandemic made it difficult to review student applications in the typical way, as it became dangerous to take standardized tests, GPAs were complicated by changes in learning, and many extracurriculars were canceled. These 2020 changes have carried over into the 2021 applications.
One of the main ways the pandemic completely changed the 2020 application process is how the majority of colleges became test-optional, meaning the submission of SAT or ACT scores was not required, which it had been in the past. Both this year and last year, the test-optional policy for most schools has been extended, and the schools claim that choosing not to subm
it a test score will not impact admission for the student. While in 2020 the change in this policy was a result of the pandemic and limited testing availability/safety, the policy is now staying because many admissions offices have realized that they do not rely on the testing as heavily as they had thought before.
The question that many people are asking is how the individuals in college admissions will adapt to this change. If given two seemingly identical students on paper, but one of those students had submitted a test score in the school’s range, which student would be accepted?
The test-optional policy is clearly beneficial to students who are not the best test takers, as it allows them to be examined based on their previous academic achievements, not just one test. However, to the students whose academics are well-represented through the SAT or ACT, it is not necessarily helpful to them as they do not gain the advantage of having a good test score.
Furthermore, last year, college applications reached a record high for most colleges as many students decided to apply with the new test-optional policy. With applications overflowing, it became more difficult to become accepted to colleges as they can only take a certain number of students. As a result, some students were rejected, while in a typical year, they would have had a better chance of getting in. Also, many colleges offered acceptances for the next year, so the student would essentially be accepted to the school, but the following year instead due to limited capacity.
This year, however, applications are still a heavy topic of discussion, but they are predicted to not be as significant as in 2020. Due to the test-optional policy, more people are applying to selective colleges, and acceptance rates continue to drop. Although the 2021 applicants will still feel the effects of the pandemic in this regard, it will be less of an impact than in the 2020 school year.
Another main change is how many colleges are rethinking their legacy admissions. Previously, students who have had family members attend the institution they are applying to have received an advantage in acceptance, but this practice is widely criticized as a student should not be impacted by their family’s previous actions regarding college. However, not much notable change has happened yet as many colleges are just beginning to rethink this aspect of admissions, but it is certainly a start and hopeful impact that the 2021 applicants will notice.
On a separate note, many of the applications used to apply to colleges, like the Common App, have adjusted to fit changing standards in society and become more inclusive. Some of the most notable changes are the removal of the school discipline question, the removal of the military discharge question, revisions to the citizenship, family, geography, and sex/gender question, and the removal of the religious preference question. This adjustment makes the Common App more inclusive and adaptable to each applicant, and also helps remove some of the barriers students face in applications.
Overall, the changes made in 2020 to the college admissions will definitely be felt by the 2021 applicants, such as the test-optional policy remaining. However, there are also many new aspects to this year’s admission that will lead to differences between the application years. With a better chance of seeing college campuses than during the pandemic, and more inclusive applications, the 2022 applicants have a great year awaiting them!