So What Do College Admissions Look Like Now?

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Written By Kate McGunagle

The 2020-2021 college admissions cycle looked a little different than it has historically — both the Common Application and Coalition added an optional essay question about the pandemic’s impact, for example, and many U.S. colleges and universities suspended their SAT/ACT testing requirements.

Some of these changes were temporary, to be sure, as admissions officers and colleges scrambled to keep application processes fair and accessible for students. But some changes are likely to have lasting impact on future college admissions — an impact that isn’t yet fully clear. 

However, there are a few compelling ideas out there about what college admissions might look like in the wake of a global pandemic. 

For one thing, COVID challenged the traditional quantitative factors of college admissions — transcripts, standardized test scores, and resumes. Many students last year were unable to take the SAT or ACT due to test center closures, for example, and plenty of schools turned to a Pass/Fail grading system or other alternative. Some students couldn’t keep up with remote work or even access the internet, raising already pressing issues of equity and accessibility. Many students also were unable to participate in extracurricular activities, including internship opportunities, research experiences, service activities, summer programs, and clubs. 

COVID thus put more emphasis on the qualitative pieces of the college application, those pieces that speak to a student’s character, personality, and values (which the pandemic couldn’t take away) — the personal statement, supplemental essays, interview, and teacher recommendations. College admissions have been heading in this direction already, actually, as colleges continue to get more specific about the kinds of students they’re seeking; COVID simply accelerated things.

This is still likely to be the case for the upcoming cycle of admissions (and beyond). Colleges are still looking for students with potential in leadership, scholarship, and public service. They still care about academic performance, test scores, and extracurricular activities. They want to make sure the students they invite to their campuses are set up to succeed with the resources they provide. But they are likely to care more than ever about the human behind these numbers and lists, as demonstrated through essay responses, recommendation letters, and interviews. As you prepare your application for college, whether that’s this fall or a future fall, keep this in mind! 

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