Covid-19 and College Admissions, Part 2

As the reality of Covid-19 and the need for physical distancing starts to sink in, many more “What about…” questions are arising.  I am writing periodic updates to summarize where we are at the moment.  Part 1 is available here.

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. 

Advanced Placement

The testing schedule for AP exams is now out.  College Board has been releasing information about the content of each test. For example, AP history exams will have one document-based question with a reduced number of documents. 

Information on individual exams (click on the + next to course titles to open details). 

AP exam FAQs.

There is also assistance available for students who need help getting online for the exam

Test Optional Colleges

The number of colleges offering Test Optional admissions is growing.  Fair Test maintains a database of schools with some kind of test optional practice. 

One of the biggest decisions is that by University of California to relax undergraduate admissions requirements including not requiring the SAT for fall 2021 freshman admissions.  UC does not label this as a “Test Optional” practice and states that it is a temporary measure in response to Covid-19.

Keep in mind that these test policies are set by individual colleges or college systems. It is not possible to make a general statement that the SAT and ACT “don’t matter” for the Class of 2021 college admissions cycle.  It is also false that admissions will be easier at colleges that ease their test requirements.  Admissions to highly selective colleges will remain highly competitive and may be less predictable than in previous years as other factors (GPA, course rigor, letters of recommendation, full pay status) are weighed more heavily. 

College Visits

Since last week, more colleges have added online sessions for both admitted seniors and high school juniors who are able to do in person college visits.

The College of William and Mary has a virtual tour, virtual admissions session, and a curated list of other online material (blogs, videos, and links to info on student life).  They even offer contact info for current students who are liaisons for their academic departments. 

James Madison University has a Virtual Choices series of live chats available on Facebook and YouTube to give students an opportunity to hear from departmental faculty and current students. I listened to one from the School of Business and thought it was well done.  I’m looking forward to watching more of these.

Sometimes individual programs or departments are putting out virtual sessions.  For example, University of Cincinnati’s College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS) has a Virtual Close-Up with a departmental tour and session focusing on specific majors. 

This week I’ve been part of meetings with college admissions staff. One thing to keep in mind is that their offices are also responding in crisis mode.  If there is information that would help a senior make a more informed decision, they should definitely reach out to the admissions office or financial aid office.

Financial Aid

As I mentioned previously, for many families, Covid-19 is creating financial turmoil.  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 page offers guidance for financial aid officers on how to use professional judgement to consider financial situations that don’t fall into neat categories. 

Unfortunately, not all colleges will be in a position to increase financial aid offers.  They may be faced with many more students who find themselves in a position of needing need-based aid at the same time that the college’s financial situation has become uncertain.  Even colleges with strong endowments will have hard decisions to make over the next few months.  As examples, Smith College described the challenges and the steps the school is taking and Stanford University outlined financial decisions as well as additional cancellations for the summer term

Final Thoughts

There is a lot to absorb right now.  Students who expected to be visiting colleges to find their best fit instead find themselves extrapolating from online information.  Don’t rush to make decisions.  Take time to ask questions and get answers.

A recent survey of students and parents indicated that a significant percentage were reconsidering college plans for the fall.  Choosing a college closer to home, choosing a less expensive college, starting at a two-year college, and deferring college for a year were offered as possible alternate plans.  These may be paths that are worth considering at your house.

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