Perspectives on the Effects of Covid-19 on the Submission and Review of U.S. College/University Applications

Perspectives on the Effects of Covid-19 on the Submission and Review of U.S. College/University Applications

 

Dear Members,

As many of us are preparing to help students apply to college and/or read the many applications that are received, I thought it would be helpful to gather some perspectives during this year of unending change due to the effects of the pandemic. This document was created by fellow board members and community members in an aim to compile suggestions and tips that may shed light on this cycle of application review. This application cycle presents many new variables that admission officers and counselors have had to manage. While this collaboration is focused on international applicants applying to US colleges and reflects the lens of the US application reading approach, our hope is that it encourages other regions to develop a guiding document of their own to share. 

Dean Mendes
Associate Director of Admission
Williams College

If you would like to help inform our community about the application season in non-US regions, please submit a blog to be published on International ACAC’s website. Send your blog to [email protected]

General Variables

  • Due to the global pandemic and school closures, there are challenges for schools (international and national) with issuing official documents with stamps (i.e., transcripts, attendance letters, etc.). The extra service required to have transcript evaluation is problematic. Such services' cost to evaluate official transcripts is high for families, and getting physical copies of documents is challenging due to schools' closure. Students also do not have access to their college counselors and may have issues communicating with their teachers to request a recommendation letter. Consulates worldwide are closed now and for the unforeseeable future, adding to the extra obstacle of obtaining the required stamps for official documents. Please allow time and flexibility when requesting these documents.

Do you rely on achieved grades/transcripts for admissions?  

  • Most schools (national and international) have adopted a hybrid model of online and face-to-face teaching; there has been an impact on the schools' curriculum. The grading scale for schools has been reimagined - from providing grades to including Pass or Fail for demonstrated learning in a given course. With canceled and postponement of exams, there is an added extra layer of complications to the validity of predicted grades and final grades.

Do you rely on predicted scores for admissions?

  • The grading scale for schools has been reimagined - from providing grades to including Pass or Fail for demonstrated learning in a given course. The cancelation of examinations worldwide has made it difficult for teachers to predict students' final studies. Predicted grades may not be meaningful for this upcoming cohort.

Do you utilize standardized testing as a variable for admissions review? 

  • Counselors, please inform admission officers about no access to testing options in your for many regions

Changes to English proficiency exams testing  

  • Home testing options for language proficiency and how to accurately assess the results.

Do you rely on teacher/counselor recommendations for admissions? (teacher/counselor support)

  • New obstacles for writing teacher recommendation letters: some teachers have only interacted with students online and may not know the student as well as they would in the in-person world.

  • Time differences have been somewhat of a struggle. Teachers and counselors who aren’t located in the same area as school and have to work at odd hours. Many students have been negatively affected by virtual learning. 

Is attention given to extracurricular activities in your admissions process? 

  • Limited access to extra-curricular/work experience

  • Gap year plans 2020-21 might have become impossible. The year might have felt “wasted” for students applying after taking a recent gap year.

Do you rely on demonstrated interest in your admissions process? 

  • Many campuses are closed to visitors. Travel restrictions are ongoing and shifting in many regions.

 Does your admissions process have space to factor in personal circumstances?   

  • With a move to virtual learning, there have been many factors that have likely influenced a student’s academic performance:

    • Limited or spotty access to the internet

    • General Zoom fatigue and the ability to concentrate on the material presented

  • Other factors that could have influenced a students mental well-being and therefore academic performance include extended periods of domestic lockdown and social isolation, the (mental) health of family and extended family, loss in the family, or students having to fend for themselves while living with their relatives as parents work (from home). 

  • To help students provide contextual information (particularly for those who do not have access to a counselor who can provide context), perhaps consider a supplemental/interview question that asks students to tell more about changes at/to their high school, grades, courses, resources for education as well as for the application process. This question ought to be more detailed than simply asking for additional information, as to ensure that students can feel safe to volunteer more information. 

How to consider regional/local context in your admissions process? 

  • Students on a different academic calendar may be experiencing conflicting requirements and deadlines or lack of access due to the academic calendar. 

  • Country labor laws (i.e. teachers not able to work off-hours) apply every year- and even more this year.

  • Increased awareness of each high school and country context- current events, including natural disasters and political/economic changes.  IE post offices on strike (mailing anything), banks closed (certification of finances), gov’t bodies offering limited services (visas, apostille, translations)

  • It is far more common outside of the US, or even among families of color within the US to see multigenerational homes so students are feeling conflicted about attending school

  • Some students have had to move to family member/friends houses for school in order to get better Wifi since the internet can be inconsistent

  • Lack of information from the school about what happened with teaching and learning during COVID- especially from those schools that do not have dedicated college counselors. Some students may be able to explain this, but would not think to do so in the application. 

  • Schools just reopening don’t have the manpower, time, support, or cannot understand  (under pressure) how to send school forms- they must be given extensions.  The emails going out to students about missing forms is stress-inducing in a normal year and detrimental this year to emotional well being.

  • Wording using ‘optional’, ‘do it now for housing’, ‘highly suggested’ is highly agitating and misleading in other cultures/languages. Counselors, educators, and students are in a panic. This includes a lack of transparency on many HEI websites about testing or sites that have not been clearly updated. 

  • Gap year plans 2020-21 might have become impossible. The year might have felt “wasted” for students applying after taking a recent gap year.

  • Some national/regional universities demand enrollment or a student loses their seat. This process is in direct conflict with international admissions season and admissions decisions. Better to take a gap year or actually continue to learn?  Students do not expect to transfer credits. 

  • A huge spectrum of “normal” - some schools have been closed since March, some are only online, others have never closed, etc. The essay replies about Covid's impact might be devastating to read or seem superficial depending on the applicant’s experiences; being empathetic to both can be difficult. 

  • Grade inflation has soared, unfortunately. Increased cheating in some areas say students who worry about ranking. 

  • On the same note, we are seeing students do AP level content work at strong private schools.  This is not often reflected in the LORs or even on profiles (if they exist).

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