College Admissions in the Time of Covid-19: An Update

2020, and now 2021, have brought us change after change- in all facets of life! We know how important college admissions are to our students, and a lot is going on in the worlds of standardized test taking and college admissions right now. So, we thought it would be helpful to give you a brief rundown of 3 main points.


Faced with the uncertainties of enrollment in 2020, both students and colleges turned to the blessing and curse that is the waitlist. This trend seems to be continuing into 2021. 

On the one hand, waitlists can be a blessing to students; with so many people worried about committing to a college and deferring for a year, colleges in 2020 dipped into their waitlists, allowing many students to join their dream school when they might not have otherwise been able to. 

On the other hand, the curse: now, all those students who waited a year might be applying in 2021, creating larger applicant pools and steeper competition. Waitlists this year are expected to be longer than ever. Students will have to balance practicality with the hope that those waitlists will pay off.

Test Optional Applications

Another factor complicating 2020 and 2021 applicant pools is the new variable of Test Optional Applications. Given the impracticality of in-person SAT and ACT testing in 2020, and the continuing difficulty in 2021, swathes of universities made reporting test scores a matter of choice. So, how much does this affect the applicant pool and who gets in?

The answer is actually surprisingly little. The difference is small but positive. Historically underrepresented groups, such as people of color and women, tend to value their own marketability as less, even if their scores are as good or better than the average score accepted at a given university. When scores are optional, these students feel more confident in applying to universities they may not have otherwise, despite being perfectly qualified. Now, because there are more of them in the applicant pool, more of them get in. However, this change isn’t because of what the admissions offices are looking for (that hasn’t changed), it’s because of who is applying. This is fantastic news!

Test Optional Applications benefit both students who have excellent resumes, but less than stellar scores, and students who can achieve that high score* and use it as another selling point on their application.

*Standardized Test Scores are still used to determine Merit Aid scholarships. That alone is a reason to continue taking the ACT/SAT and doing your best, even if you opt not to send the scores to every school. More on that in a future blog!

AP Exams

At this point you’re probably thinking, “To apply or not to apply? To test or not to test?” Thankfully, amongst all of this uncertainty, there is one very solid, ever-faithful standby: the AP Exams.

Taking an AP Exam has always been a practical choice. With a high enough score, you can earn college credit, which can translate to skipping to higher level courses immediately and cutting down college costs. With Test Optional applications, APs will be more practical than ever.

If an admissions officer has two students who have both opted not to send in scores, what will they be looking at? Extracurriculars and the rigor of the students’ courses. Students who have chosen more difficult courses like APs and scored good grades in them will have an edge on their fellow applicants. Colleges like to see AP exam scores along with students’ GPA in the class to validate the AP grade, especially since remote learning has been inconsistent from school to school. This makes it a huge boon to applications!

If you want any extra help to nail those AP Courses and SAT/ACT Exams, contact us, here at Pivot Tutors!

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