COVID-19's Impact on the College Application Process

High school seniors have been struggling to form exemplary applications to their desired colleges due to the havoc the current pandemic has wreaked on students. 

College administrators are also struggling in their decision making and application processes, due to the set-backs COVID has created. These struggles include the postponement of standardized testing, sports and clubs, and the pass/fail grading system many schools across the country have implemented since spring 2020. 

Coronavirus has impacted everyone around the world, but it is hitting incoming college students hard. The dreaded SATs and ACTs were postponed until the fall of 2020 making it almost too late for some seniors’ to apply for early action and early acceptance.

The SAT exam scheduled to be administered worldwide Saturday has been canceled in more than 15 countries, and a growing number of U.S. schools that host it are backing out.” said The Washington Post back in Nov. 2020.

Most students take these standardized tests their junior year, and those who were waiting until last spring missed out on testing and the time it may take for tutoring and studying. Those who were able to send in their test scores may not have had the best results. These standardized tests are very helpful to college administrators because they are known as equalizers. Colleges are able to see multiple aspects based on one’s scores including performance under pressure, test-taking skills, and most importantly, knowledge in comparison to peers. Without these equalizing tests, colleges are only able to see how well a student does during the school year. Classes differ greatly all across the country, so one applicant may know more about a certain subject than another, even though they both took the same class.

The pandemic also caused all sports and clubs to be postponed or canceled this past spring. These sports and clubs are extremely important to both students and administrators when determining acceptance decisions. To some students, sports are the only reason they go to school in the first place, or these sports are their only ticket to affording college at all.

Without the spring season, some of these players were unable to continue practicing their desired sports and had to figure out how to practice in their backyard. For those who may not be so athletic, clubs and even the drama programs at their school were virtually nonexistent. Many students were unable to receive awards or gain scholarship opportunities.

To secondary institutions, sports and clubs show students’ level of involvement in their school outside of grades and requirements. Without the spring sessions, colleges are less able to differentiate those who are normally highly involved and those who are not.

Along with the missing sports and clubs, volunteering was also near impossible, and continues to be. Students are normally able to help the elderly at nursing homes or help out at shelters or food banks near their homes, but COVID has upended most volunteering opportunities as well.

Many schools across the country resorted to a pass/fail grading system in the spring semester of 2020 because they did not know what else to do. Students were open to limitless resources during that semester, and it was difficult to catch the cheaters among the classes. Some classes in general were even discontinued for weeks. Students who did not have access to technology were clueless, and teachers were teaching themselves how to hold classes virtually. College admissions are now unable to completely trust GPAs because of these pass/fail grading systems. says, “When a student is hoping to move on to graduate school, medical school or a four-year college, questions abound regarding how a grade of "pass" is going to look to an admissions officer, or if community college courses will still transfer.”

As much as high school seniors are having trouble applying for schools and scholarships, college admissions officers are having an equally hard time accepting applications. 

"We're going to have to hit the reset button hard on this one. It's going to take a complete retraining of how we review applications and what we're looking for. We're kind of figuring it out as we go." said Jeff Schiffman, director of undergraduate admissions at Tulane University.

Due to these many factors student applications and their college essays are being scrutinized more so than ever before admissions officers are relying on college essays more so than ever before. 

Shawn Abbott, vice provost for admissions, financial aid and enrollment management at Temple University stated, “The time and intensity that will be involved in the upcoming year is terrifying." With some 35,000 applications expected to come in without standardized test scores or "a nice, easy, clean grade-point average that we can hang our hat on," admissions officers will have to "take a deeper dive into each file and dig deeper into each candidate."

Both college applicants and administrators are struggling, but they are learning how to change their ways to accommodate these new challenges.


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