Colleges are in the news every day lately and it is no wonder because the pandemic is changing things daily for all aspects of higher ed.  Now that September is here colleges are open – either virtually or in person.  What we hear about in the media are parties, students being sent home and policies changing.  What I am interested in right now is changes in college admissions due to Covid.

I see three major trends in college admissions due to Covid.  First, is that nearly every college has become “score optional” in regard to standardized tests.  This is out of necessity because so many students were unable to take the test due to cancelled administrations of the SAT and ACT in 2020 because of Covid.  This means that when it comes to academics, candidates are being evaluated primarily on their transcript which includes degree of rigor as well as grades.  Even super competitive and large public universities that have typically relied on standardized test scores are becoming score optional which is a major shift in policy.

Second, colleges are hurting financially due to Covid.  The demands it has put on them to pivot, and adjust to new teaching methods and for changes to physical facilities in order to allow for social distancing on campus has squeezed budgets for colleges across the country.  Since most colleges are dependent on student tuition to fund their operating budgets, a student’s ability to pay has become an increasingly important data point for admission decisions.  In other words, full pay students are getting an advantage in admissions more than ever before.

Third, the “full-pay phenomenon” has led to an increased emphasis on Early Decision on the part of the college admissions committees. An ED candidate with a commitment to attend and pay tuition, is becoming an increasingly attractive choice.  While a bonus for the wealthy, I fear that the number of financial aid-seeking students applying at the ED stage will decline because they will not have the opportunity to weigh one financial aid offer against another.

I think the test optional trend has some positive impacts on students.  It allows for the good student who is not a great test taker or does not have access to test prep to pursue competitive colleges.  The full pay trend and the increased emphasize on ED are nothing but troubling in my opinion.  College may indeed revert to being places for the privileged in our society.  That is truly concerning.