All, College Admissions, College Planning, Covid-19

Covid-19 and College Admissions, Part 1

Notes from a Challenging and Changing Situation

As the reality of Covid-19 and the need for physical distancing starts to sink in, many more “What about…” questions are arising.  I plan to do periodic updates to summarize where we are at the moment.

Keep in mind that while the situation is uncertain in many ways, you aren’t alone in going through this.  Other students, other families, and even the staff at schools and college are also trying to figure out what this means in the immediate and long term.

For additional information, check out Part 2.


College Board cancelled the May SAT exam.  A decision about the June SAT exam will likely be made in the first half of April.  They are exploring ways of offering more opportunities to test in the fall, but that is subject to conditions down the road. 

The April ACT was rescheduled to June 13.  I expect similar discussions about safety during testing and access to testing are happening at ACT. 

Some colleges have announced that they will be using test optional admissions either for a short period or as a permanent change.  Boston University will be test optional for one year.  Tufts is doing a three-year trial.  University of Oregon and Oregon State University are going test optional as a permanent change.  The list of test optional schools is likely to grow. 

Advanced Placement tests will be 45 minutes, online, open book/open note tests with Free Response Question formats.  Exams will only test material that most classes were able to cover by March.  Students who decide not to take the exam will be able to cancel without financial penalty.

College Board is offering online Advanced Placement review sessions, available to all students.  Recordings of these sessions are available at the Advanced Placement YouTube channel.

The open book, shorter format will emphasize analysis and application of knowledge.  Students should not assume that the open book format will equate to an easier test.  The issue of cheating on the test is being taken into account in test design.  They will use algorithms to detect plagiarism. 

More info about Advanced Placement is available directly from College Board

Many have asked if this year’s scores will be accepted in the same way by colleges as other years.  Keep in mind that policies for Advanced Placement credit vary widely from very liberal to very restrictive.  For example, Virginia Tech grants credit for most AP courses beginning with a score of 3 and assigns more credit for higher scores, but has specific course correlations depending on the student’s major.  Stanford only grants credit for a few courses (mainly foreign language, math, and science) and may require a score of 5 to receive credit.

Right now, it seems likely that most colleges will not change their AP credit policy, but will actively advise students to consider if they are ready for the next course in a sequence (ie, Calculus 2, advanced chemistry).  Some colleges might offer bridge coursework in the summer to help with student success.  This is a good thing for students to consider even under normal situations.  For foundational courses in the student’s major, it may be worth taking the course at the college in order to have the best understanding of the material.  This is a topic that is still developing, since colleges are currently more focused on getting their spring courses online for current students.  Don’t expect there to be a uniform policy from all colleges.

College Visits

Many juniors and seniors had their plans for spring college visits upended.  A number of colleges are responding to this with online admissions sessions and Q&A with admissions staff and current students.  If you aren’t seeing this yet from schools you are interested in, reach out to admissions to ask about availability.  YouVisit offers official virtual tours of many college campuses. 

Students may need to spend more time engaging with college websites.  Look at pages for individual schools and departments within a university (ie, The School of Education or the College of Engineering and the Department of Mechanical Engineering or the Department of Physics).  Look for social media channels that are not controlled by admissions, such as a YouTube channel for the department or a Facebook or Instagram feed for a sports team or club.  High schoolers can also ask to be put in touch with current students who share their interests (major, sports, activities).

Financial Aid

For many families, Covid-19 means a significant change in their financial situation.  Because financial aid decisions are based on the prior-prior year’s taxes, a current drop in income would not have been taken into account.  The current situation is definitely one that could be grounds for appealing a financial aid offer.  This might involve not only loss of parental income, but a change in asset value, loss of student income, medical expenses, or the need to care for extended family members.

This College Board page offers guidance for financial aid officers on how to consider financial situations that don’t fall into neat categories.

Realize that while your family may have reasons for appealing financial aid packages, not all colleges will be in a position to offer more financial aid.  You will also want to consider the type of aid that is offered (grants vs work study vs loans).  When schools shift to online delivery and limited on campus presence, work study jobs may also be suspended.

Final Thoughts

This may be a good time to revisit Frank Bruni’s Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be and the Stanford report on the importance of student engagement over college rankings, A Fit Over Rankings.

Don’t feel singled out by the current situation; everyone is feeling their way through what decisions are right for them.  Don’t obsess over what you can’t control or might-have-beens. 

A few surveys have indicated that as many as 1 in 6 high school seniors are reconsidering their plans for the fall.  Some are considering a gap year, starting at a 2-year college, or going to a college that is closer to home and/or less expensive.  These alternate options may be worth considering.

For seniors, some colleges have shifted their decision day from May 1 to June 1.  If this would help you make a decision, ask the admissions office if this is a possibility.  Schools that are trying to fill a class are likely to be more flexible.  Some colleges are still taking applications or have reopened applications for students in their local region.

For juniors, take this time to cast a wider net of schools you are investigating.  Applications will still be read in the context of what was possible for each student at their school.  Students don’t control the testing calendar or if grades are offered.  However, highly selective schools will still be highly selective and highly competitive.  In a “normal” year, a prudent college list would include schools at a wide range of admissions likelihood and would include schools that are affordable.  In uncertain times this becomes even more important.

Many colleges report that their admissions staff and financial aid officers are more available than usual to respond to students and families.  Don’t rush into making decisions, but use this time to investigate important questions — with colleges, with your family and with yourself.