Impact of COVID-19 on College Admissions & Testing

As social distancing stretches on, high school students are starting to feel the effects of long-term quarantining on their college application process.

On college campuses, most spring semesters transferred online as campuses closed down until the fall, leaving students to scramble and move home in some cases.

Now, future college students are also being impacted. As colleges react, they’re changing the admissions process, leading to some confusion and misconceptions that could impact an incoming student’s chances at admission.

How Have Admission Requirements Changed?

Because most are ordered to stay at home at this time, some universities have amended their admission requirements for incoming applicants. “Due to COVID-19, some colleges are going test-optional and there is increasing public sentiment that the SAT® or ACT® may not be important to applications this year,” explains Shaan Patel, an ACT and SAT test prep expert.

For the most part, these changes impact high school juniors planning to attend schools in fall 2021. While each university makes its own decision regarding admissions, testing, and policy, applicants can expect changes in these admission requirements.

In reaction to the coronavirus outbreak, the College Board has canceled its upcoming SAT and SAT subject Tests . If it’s safe, they’ll begin offering tests again in fall 2020 and are even considering an online alternative, but this uncertainty has already had an impact on admission requirements.

More than 50 colleges have dropped the SAT or ACT test as an admission requirement for fall 2021 applicants.

Additional schools have even taken it a step further, extending the policy until the spring 2022 semester—Tufts University in Boston has made SAT and ACT scores optional for applications for a trial three-year period .

Making test scores optional is up to the discretion of each college and university. Applicants should still take a close look at each school’s requirements to determine if they need to send test scores to be considered.

Why Testing Still Matters

For a high school junior applying to college, making ACT and SAT test scores optional may feel like a “Get Out of Jail Free” card to avoid preparing for or taking the exam.

“I’m sorry, but you have been lied to,” says Patel. “While it is true that some colleges have dropped the SAT or ACT as an admission requirement, 70 of the Top 100 National Universities still require the SAT or ACT for college admission this upcoming application cycle.”

Some schools have adopted a new model in the wake of the coronavirus, but many schools will still require test scores from those hoping to attend school in the fall of 2021. But even if an applicant’s dream school doesn’t require their ACT or SAT score, they should still consider preparing for, and taking the tests.

While the news might make an applicant feel like the ACT and SAT tests are history, that’s not entirely the case. Properly preparing for and taking these tests could mean a leg up in the admission process.

A Tool to Stand Out

“It is difficult to narrow down applications without a standardized test score,” says Patel, and it’s harder for applicants to stand out using their GPA alone.

Moreover, an A in AP U.S. History at one school, for example, could vary tremendously based on course difficulty and grading scale. In 2016, over 40% of high school seniors graduated with an A average, so how can one A applicant stand out, or be compared to another? asks Patel.

Many of the universities that aren’t requiring the ACT and SAT tests are making them optional —that means they will still take a look at applicants’ scores when permitted.

If a student has the means and opportunity to take a standardized test, it’s providing more information to admissions that’ll help them make a decision.

Providing testing scores to a college can help applicants stand out when so many students look the same. A great test score might make an admission’s counselor look twice at a potential student.

Scholarship Opportunities

Because many college applications are going test-optional, it’s likely fewer students will take the ACT and SAT tests. That means, “the students who do take the SAT and ACT could receive more scholarships than ever,” Patel says.

Highly competitive merit scholarships that require ACT and SAT scores, like the 90,000 applicants -strong Coca-Cola Scholars program, will likely have less competition this year. Other scholarship money comes directly from universities , which will use applicant’s ACT and SAT scores, in addition to other factors to award scholarship money. “The fewer students taking the SAT and ACT, the higher chance for students taking the tests to get a scholarship,” reasons Patel.

How to Study While Stuck at Home

Quarantine might keep college hopefuls from attending in-person SAT and ACT test prep classes, but it does present them with a unique opportunity, says Patel. “Never have high school students had so much time at home without the distractions of school clubs, sports, and other extracurricular activities.” With a little bit of planning and self-discipline, test takers could see their best scores yet.

Taking Breaks

To make the most of their time at home, Patel recommends studying using the 50/10 rule: “This means breaking up every hour with 50 minutes of studying and 10 minutes of a break.”

The 50 minutes should be heads-down work time when students avoid checking their phones or social media. Then, during the 10-minute break, they can do whatever they want, from browsing TikTok to answering texts.

Students could also use an old fashioned egg timer to keep track of study and break time to avoid smartphone distractions.

Using Online Tools

Students might not be able to attend in-person study groups, but online resources are here to lend a hand. Using virtual classrooms with expert instructors, like Prep Expert , students can get the in-person experience at home.

Leaving Time for Practice Tests

One of the best ways to practice for the SAT and ACT tests is simply getting an idea of what taking the test feels like. Taking at least one full practice test can give test-takers an idea of how the experience feels, where they might get tripped up, and how it feels to take a test for three hours.

Finding the Best Study Time

Having hours at home with little to do doesn’t mean test takers should spend all day studying. Cramming information hour after hour can lead to fatigue, and could mean retaining less information at the end of the day.

Students should try to get a feel for the best time of day that works for them. Some students might feel better studying at night, while others prefer cracking open their study materials first thing in the morning.

Making the Most of Student Financing

With test scores and applications submitted, the next hurdle could be finding financing for school.

If you’ve exhausted your federal student loan options and are still looking for financing, consider SoFi’s private student loans. With no origination fees, late fees, or insufficient fund fees, its fee-free financing with flexible repayment plans to fit each borrower’s budget.

Learn More

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