The Latest Update on the Impact of the Pandemic on US Universities and Admissions

Over the course of the past year, the pandemic has dramatically impacted higher education globally. We recently participated in a webinar with the latest updates on how COVID-19 has impacted universities and admissions in the US and Australia. Here are the takeaways about US universities and colleges from the discussion. You can also view the recorded webinar here.

First-year enrollment for Fall 2020 fell by 13.1%

More students had chosen options such as taking a gap year or deferring their enrollment for another year than ever before, with a 2.5% drop in undergraduate enrollments. Given the uncertain situation of the pandemic last fall, most schools had conducted classes online and have continued with this policy through the spring semester.

What has been interesting to observe, on the other hand, was the dramatic increase in the number of applicants received by many top schools for Fall 2021.

Top schools have seen a 20-50% increase in the number of applications received

Compared to the previous year, top schools have a significant increase in the number of applications. For example, below are some of the schools and the increased number of applications as reported earlier in the fall:

  • Brown University +22%
  • University of Pennsylvania +23%
  • Dartmouth University +29%
  • Yale University +38%
  • Harvard University +57%

One key reason top schools are receiving so many applications is specifically related to the adoption of a test-optional policy. Historically, most colleges and universities required applicants to submit either an SAT or ACT score. However, given that many examinations were cancelled in 2020, students were not able to access the standardized tests. Hence, universities and colleges adopted a “test-optional” policy in response.

In previous years, test scores served as a benchmark for students, such that if their scores were below the school’s average, they would not apply. Now that all schools have adopted a test-optional policy, many students have the mindset that, while their test scores were below the school’s average, they could omit their test scores and might still have a chance. Thus the dramatic increase in applications received by the top schools in the past year.

US universities and colleges continue to adopt the test-optional policy

The biggest impact on the admissions process has been that almost all schools have shifted to a test-optional policy. This will continue at least through the next year for students applying to universities for 2022 enrollment.

In addition, the SAT subject tests have become an even lower priority. In fact, CollegeBoard, the exam board that administers the SAT subject tests, will permanently eliminate these exams after the spring of 2021. While universities and colleges will still accept reported test scores from students who have already taken the subject tests, their priority has certainly been reduced.

For a more detailed explanation on the test optional policy, check out our previous blog post here.

What does it take for students to stand out?

What all these changes mean is that universities have placed less reliance on standardized testing in their admissions process and greater importance on grades, essays, activities, and interviews.

To stand out, students will have to go above and beyond to demonstrate their intellectual curiosity, academic rigor, independent thinking, and leadership skills, among other things, through a thoroughly-planned and well-executed profile of extracurricular activities and academic achievements.

Apply Ivy’s advice to Fall 2022 applicants

Based on student surveys, 36% of students that were going through the Fall 2021 application process did not submit their test scores. Some students might see this as an opportunity to skip the SAT or ACT exams completely. However, our suggestion is to take the SAT or ACT anyway. Since it is getting harder for students to stand out, if they can score at least above average, that is still a way to stand out and demonstrate the student’s college readiness.

How do educational consultants such as Apply Ivy help their students prepare for a competitive application season?

Helping students stand out is exactly what Apply Ivy does best. By building up a student’s portfolio or their body of work through gaining significant achievements and experiences, Apply Ivy’s team of expert admission consultants coaches students through the ins and outs of crafting a holistic and comprehensive application, starting with identifying ways to help students stand out in their pursuits.

Apply Ivy will continue to provide updates on the latest trends and advice regarding the growingly competitive landscape of college admissions. Be the first to know about our events by signing up for our emailing list!

To schedule a free initial consultation with an expert educational consultant, contact us at info@applyivy.com or at +852 3703 5160.