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College Knowledge: 7 ways that applying to college will not change

In many ways, applying for colleges this year will be the same as ever.

For high school seniors, the future of college is difficult to envision amid all the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as high school juniors begin to make college plans, they will find that applying to college works a lot like it always has. This happy bit of certainty in an otherwise unpredictable world will include these seven basic parts of the process.

Take the tests

Many colleges have announced that they will not require test scores this year, but students who have scores do have the option of submitting them. In 2018, a national research study titled “Defining Access: How Test-Optional Works”revealed that most students applying to so-called test-optional colleges submit their test scores, and those who did were more likely to be admitted.

On April 22, 2020, The Wall Street Journal reported that Cornell University announced it would for the first time ever admit students on a test-optional basis, while also stating that scores would be a “meaningful differentiator” for the students who submitted them. So, tests still matter!


Even though it is not clear whether students will attend college in person or online, they still need to secure admission to a college, which means they will have to apply. Because of COVID-19, they may not be able to travel to campuses for traditional college tours, but they can and should take advantage of virtual visits.

The list

As usual, students should make a list of colleges to apply to, including both colleges where they are likely to be accepted and some they will possibly get into. Because of the pandemic, there are some adjustments recommended to this step. For example, students should consider including more affordable colleges and ones that are closer to home on their list. But the need for the list remains.

Grades count

Students are completing the current school year online and may get only pass-fail grades for the spring term, but colleges will consider grades the student earned prior to the COVID-19 disruption. As always, grades will be important in the admissions process this year, especially since students may have fewer chances to take standardized tests.

Stay active

What you did in the past and what you do now, your activities, still help colleges understand your values and interests. How you express yourself in your application essays will also help colleges evaluate you. These important parts of the application will not change, even if the type of activities you engage in and the experiences you write about do change.

It’s not getting easier

Because COVID-19 has given rise to unique concerns for families, colleges are less able to predict how many students will attend their school. So, they may admit more students to hedge against uncertainty. However, this does not mean that colleges will not be selective. Due to limited space and resources, good schools have always turned away qualified students. More admissions this year do not mean colleges are less choosy.

Financial aid: here to stay

There will be financial aid available for students, but overall less than normal due to the increase in the number of students needing it, as well as the unique financial stress on colleges caused by the pandemic.

The difference will be especially noticeable in connection with sports programs. Programs that do not produce revenue for colleges may suffer significant budget cuts and thus be less able to offer athletes financial support in the form of aid or scholarships this year.

As French author Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr once famously wrote, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”

In this time of change, it is reassuring for juniors to remember that while change is inevitable, the task of applying to college will in essence look much as it always has.

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