The impact of COVID-19 on college search, application and acceptance strategies

The impact of COVID-19 on college search, application and acceptance strategies

Unprecedented… for once this adjective is not an exaggeration! With academic life upended, parents and students are asking about the pandemic’s effect both on graduating seniors and juniors gearing up to apply to college.

As ‘stay at home’ restrictions are eased, uncertainly remains the order of the day. No assumed outcome is assured, and much information on offer is speculative. However, we at ARCUS offer the insider perspective and experience international students need to strategize and navigate the range of considerations.

Graduating Seniors/Upper Sixth:

Schools shut, A-level and IB exams cancelled, graduation ceremonies and festivities postponed, plus universities uncertain if and when campuses will reopen… this year’s graduate is having a rough ride.

Many colleges extended the May 1 candidate reply deadline to June 1. This allows students to weigh the pros and cons of deferring or accepting an offer.

Choosing short term pain for long term gain could be a wise strategy. Your first year may get off to a rocky start, but you will join the community of your choice and make the journey collectively, in expectation of steadily improving circumstances.

If you are more comfortable postponing college until next year and your first choice does not offer a deferral, you will need to reapply. Depending on how the situation evolves, the 2021 applicant pool could be higher or lower. Are you willing to take the gamble?

A recent article in Forbes reviews the debate in depth: Defer or Defy: Should You Start College This Fall?

College-Bound Juniors/Lower Sixth:

Happily, you have time on your side. Short term, the biggest disruptions are the postponement of College Entrance exams and the impossibility of campus visits. Make the most of the time freed up from cessation of other activities (sports, travel, extra- curricular pursuits, part-time job or summer internship), to get started on your Common App essay (read our ARCUS blog Tips for Tackling the Personal Essay). And boost your extra-curricular activities via the interactive online Skills tab:

Standardized Tests:

Many colleges and universities have eliminated the test score requirement or made it optional. The decline in the importance of the ACT and SAT as a criterion for admissions cuts both ways.

If you do not test well but have strong grades, essays, extracurricular activities, and recommendations, this presents the opportunity to apply to a few more “reach” schools. With many unknowns, it is impossible to predict if the applicant pool will be smaller or greater. If deferrals are high this spring and many students pursue a “reach” strategy in the fall, competition for places could be higher; the jury is still out. ARCUS always encourages diversification, and this strategy is particularly wise when circumstances are in flux. You may be safest raising your game on “second-tier” schools, where test scores have been eliminated for a few years.

International students should be in a favourable position since it is likely that schools will receive fewer overseas applications due to economic insecurity, geopolitical tensions and the threat of another round of travel restrictions.

Students with high test scores should include them in their application when possible. The fact that they are optional does not mean they will be ignored.

We encourage students who are confident to take tests they were preparing for. It is a pity to waste the effort put into a test prep course. International students should be able to sit exams starting in June or July.

Official sites for up to date information on international test dates:

SAT/AP Tests

The NY Times recently published a comprehensive article detailing which schools have opted out: More Colleges Are Waiving SAT and ACT Requirements

College Campus Visits:

If your spring or summer campus tour was cancelled, you can still take advantage of virtual tours and online meet-ups with students and faculty.

These sites are useful for learning more about colleges:

Location - the advantages of a low population density setting:

Months of home confinement highlighted the benefits of rural living. In addition to access to the natural world, infection rates in rural communities are lower than in congested cities. In densely populated east coast states, such colleges tend to be situated in rural locations, like Bowdoin, Middlebury, or Bard. In Heartland, Pacific Northwest, Southwest, Mountain, and Southern states, they can also be found in a small city or large town.

Colleges located outside major urban centres also offer the advantage of a vibrant, close-knit community, since the majority of students live on campus.

As the application season progresses, we will keep you up to date on how the situation is evolving. For international students keen to attend college or university in the US, this year could present an ideal opportunity! And ARCUS is ready to guide and support you through every step of the journey.


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