Nisa Quarles '21
COVID-19 has certainly been on many people’s minds lately, but there’s another daunting c-word in circulation: college. As colleges and their students are struggling to make decisions about opening campus and restarting classes, many high school seniors are struggling to embark on their college application process in the absence of normal opportunities, such as standardized testing and in-person campus tours. COVID has also consistently exposed and even augmented disparities and inequalities in a variety of sectors and institutions, and college has been no different.
According to a New York Times survey of 1500 American colleges and universities, as of August 26, 2020, 750 colleges have reported approximately 26,000 COVID cases on their campuses since the beginning of the pandemic. Thousands of these cases are the result of a recent spike as colleges have tried to reopen their campuses. These spikes have forced some schools, like Notre Dame, to delay classes, and others, like the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, to close campus again and send students back home. The number of cases may also be higher than this survey indicates because some colleges did not or refused to report numbers. Additionally, because of the lack of national tracking infrastructure, the numbers are based on the individual college’s report methodology and standards which may have skewed the results of this survey.
Off campus, colleges face more questions about how they will proceed with the upcoming admissions cycle. Students and athletes want to and have been preparing to show schools their best work and athleticism, but lots of these chances are now limited or completely gone. At the same time, colleges, scouts, and coaches want to build talented, competitive student bodies and team rosters, but the systems that they have traditionally used to do that now have to adapt to the current situation. For example, The Washington Post reported back in April 2020 that SAT and ACT cancellations and delays left approximately 1 million then high school juniors unable to get a standardized score. In response to these testing cancellations and delays, many colleges, including Tulane University, Northeastern University, Texas Christian University, and all 8 Ivy League schools, announced that they are not requiring standardized testing scores for the upcoming admissions cycle. Some schools, notably those in the University of California system, have waived testing requirements for the next few upcoming admissions cycles. The schools are vowing that students will not be punished for not submitting a score.
Another aspect of the college admissions process that has changed has been athlete recruitment. Since in-person recruiting is limited or even impossible now, scouts and coaches cannot see athletes in action. This limitation especially impacts Division II and Division III schools whose recruiting processes don’t begin as early as freshmen year as those in Division I schools do. Tapes, Zoom calls, emails, and social media are now more important than ever to connect with coaches and display talent.
Despite these changes to the college admissions process, high schoolers across the country still may have more difficulty applying to college than students in previous years. There is already a correlation between high populations of low-income students and low attendance, and COVID is only increasing this divide between wealthier and low-income students. Wealthier schools have near perfect online school attendance; whereas, some high schools with high populations of low-income students have reported that, back when the pandemic started, fewer than half of the student body actually attended online classes.
Beyond attendance, COVID could impact students’ report cards in other ways. Students who planned to use junior and senior year to make up for less desirable grades from freshmen and sophomore year might be unable to do so due to a learning style that is incompatible with online school or due to new high school grading systems that have replaced traditional letter and number grades. COVID limitations may also reduce the number of extracurricular activities that students can include on their application. In terms of selecting colleges, high school students are having to rely more on virtual visits, tours, and Zoom calls. They are unable to get the “feel” for campuses that can accompany physical tours and visits.
COVID’s effects on colleges and the college process are constantly developing, and only time will tell its long-term impacts on high school and college students across the country.
- “Tracking Coronavirus Cases at U.S. Colleges and Universities,” The New York Times, 8/26/2020
- Neil Vigdor and Johnny Diaz, “More Colleges Are Waiving SAT and ACT Requirements,” The New York Times, 5/21/2020
- Abigail Hess, “How the coronavirus pandemic has changed college admissions,” CNBC, 4/17/2020
- Abigail Hess, “All 8 Ivy League schools will not require standardized testing for admissions next year,” CNBC, 6/23/2020
- Dana Goldstein, Adam Popescu, and Nikole Hannah-Jones; “As School Moves Online, Many Students Stay Logged Out;” The New York Times; 4/8/2020
- Joe Drape, “Pandemic Leaves a Void for Young Athletes Seeking to Make College Teams,” The New York Times, 6/6/2020
- Nick Anderson, “One million-plus juniors will miss out on SATs and ACTs this spring because of coronavirus,” The Washington Post, 4/13/2020