What will COVID-19 mean for the college admissions cycle?

Coronavirus-related campus closures are affecting not only current college students but prospective ones, too. Unable to offer in-person tours and other events to help newly admitted students make enrollment decisions, institutions are exploring ways to engage and educate families digitally.

Some also are pushing back deposit deadlines and bracing for potential dips in international student enrollment. High school students, meanwhile, also are shifting expectations as school closures and distancing recommendations lead officials to postpone standardized tests like the SAT.

Rethinking tours, events, and deadlines for newly admitted students

According to Inside Higher Ed, colleges and universities mindful of the rapidly approaching May 1 deposit deadline have already begun to rethink their contact with newly admitted students. Many are taking advantage of virtual tours and developing online content to help give families a taste of campus in the absence of in-person tours and overnights for admitted students. 

Hoping to help students make informed enrollment decisions, the University of Washington is offering online info sessions and plans to have campus tour guides chat online with prospective students. Colleges’ shift to online instruction also may create newfound access to the classroom experience, allowing students to “sit in” on classes virtually, Paul Seegert, the university’s director of admissions told The New York Times. “We’re excited to extend our reach to communities who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to visit our campus,” he said.

“It is a different dynamic,” Alice Arredondo, director of admissions at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, told Inside Higher Ed of the shift to digital strategies. But, “we do find students like engaging in this way,” she said.

Other schools, understanding the confusion caused by the pandemic, have decided to delay the deadline to reply to admissions offers. Calling 2020 “the year that shredded the admissions calendar,” The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that as of March 15, at least 36 institutions had pushed back their deposit deadlines from May 1 to June 1, with more institutions poised to follow suit. 

Meanwhile, college essay coach Jill Margaret Shulman pointed out that high school counselors also can play an important role in this uncertain time, helping college-bound students learn more about schools online, use social media to contact currently enrolled students or alumni, and take advantage of virtual tours.

Postponing standardized tests

COVID-19 also has put a damper on standardized testing. Some U.S. students who showed up to take the SAT on March 14 found their testing sites closed unexpectedly; California alone closed more than 100 testing locations. The College Board, which administers the SAT, also had canceled testing in more than 15 countries including China, Japan, Italy, and South Korea.

Anticipating potential dip in international enrollments

Inside Higher Ed notes that test cancellations abroad also may have implications for international graduate school enrollment, given that many programs require international students to achieve certain scores on the Test of English as a Foreign Language or similar exams. Overall, Inside Higher Ed reports, institutions that enroll a high number of international students have voiced concerns about COVID-19’s potential impact on enrollment for the fall.


Interested in helping students facing unanticipated expenses?

A gift to Georgetown University’s COVID-19 Crisis Response Fund for Students will support the university’s commitment to providing assistance to any student who requires it.

Learn more
Topics in this story

Next Up

Displaced students turn to crowdfunding for unexpected expenses

Coronavirus-related campus closures have left low-income students nationwide facing last-minute moving and travel expenses. Peer networks and university communities are jumping in to offer support through digital organizing and crowdfunding.