COVID-19 Makes Difficult College Admissions Even Worse

 

This blog is about college admissions and the concerns of students in the admissions process, primarily rising seniors.  You need to understand how the pandemic affects you as an aspiring member of the college Class of 2025 — the students who will be freshmen in the fall of 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hastened what was a slow-moving crisis. The 10% decline in college enrollment that Nathan Grawe, author of Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education, predicted would happen between 2020 and 2030 is happening right now in 2020 as the pandemic continues to shock higher education in the U.S.

Lately, the media has focused on the plans of colleges for their re-opening in the fall. It appears that college operations will be variations of the following three basic options:

  1. All classes will be conducted online,
  2. Some classes will be conducted on campus and some online, and,
  3. All classes will be conducted on campus.

Option 1 is controversial because of the strong preference of students for campus life as a part of their college experience. Options 2 and 3 are controversial because they call for stringent policies to mitigate the spread of infection among students, faculty, employees, and their families. Criticisms center on the question, “Will even these policies be sufficient to prevent an outbreak?”

There’s wide variation in the policies of colleges concerning tuition, travel, PPE requirements, student access to the Internet, residential and dining hall operations, health facilities, Covid-19 testing protocols, quarantining, social distancing rules, and many other matters. This information is vital to a current student making the decision to re-enroll or not. Thus far, it appears that many will not, as evinced by the sharp rise in requests for gap years.

Let’s be optimistic and assume that a vaccine will be available in early 2021 and that everyone will have been vaccinated by mid-year. Colleges can then safely resume normal operations in the fall of 2021. But by then the admissions process will have undergone radical changes. Some of these changes will be permanent. You’d be wise to anticipate and accommodate them in your admissions strategy.

Major areas where permanent change is expected:

1. College Closings – Colleges occasionally fail, usually for financial reasons. A large number of colleges have been financially unstable since the Great Recession, so they were struggling before Covid-19 struck.

Experts such as Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma,  have predicted that from 25% to 50% of colleges will close in the next decade due to a combination of factors that include the pandemic, changing demographics, state disinvestment, and an increasing expense burden. You should investigate the ongoing viability of the colleges to which you plan to apply. Are they likely to be among the 75% that may survive?

2. SAT and ACT Exams – The exam organizations have been cancelling test dates since March. They’re having difficulty scheduling and keeping replacement dates due to the persistence of the virus. Both organizations have considered but rejected plans to conduct exams online. As a result, many more colleges have joined the ranks of test-optional schools, at least temporarily. The majority of colleges now don’t require SAT/ACT test scores for admission.

Given the controversy over the potential of the exams to discriminate against socio-economically disadvantaged students, it’s probable that most colleges will remain test-optional after the pandemic. It’s also likely that more colleges will adopt test-free policies, which means they won’t consider your test scores even if you submit them voluntarily. Depending upon your circumstances, this trend may have a great effect on your selection of colleges.

3. Visiting Campuses – It seems likely that on-campus tours for prospective students will not resume until after the deadline for applications has passed next winter. This is significant for those building a list of “best-fit” colleges. A campus visit has always been the best way to determine if a college is right for you. Many colleges have made it easier for you to become familiar with their campuses online. They have invested in innovative methodologies that combine virtual technology with communication tools to provide state-of-the-art virtual tours.

Some colleges who have been unable to re-architect their online tours now offer a simple but effective improvement. It involves a student guide on campus using a smartphone to be visually connected with you. He or she makes the usual tour stops and then shows you whatever you want to see that is of specific interest to you. It’s not as good as actually being there, but it can help you to assess colleges.

4. College Major and Career Choices – The choice of your “best-fit” colleges depends to a great extent on your choice of a major, which is based on what you see as the best career field for you. Since the pandemic has caused mass disruption to entire industries, resulting in job losses in many fields, there are likely to be fewer job opportunities in these fields when you graduate.

However, no one is sure which fields will be most affected long-term. Complicating matters is the fact that the economy appears headed for a recession of unknown duration. In a poor economy, many graduates experience problems in landing a first job in their chosen field.

In short, even if your course selections in high school were oriented toward a particular major, your plans for that major should be re-examined.

5. Fewer Scholarships Available – In the past, many partial scholarships were awarded by colleges after they had accepted an applicant for admission. These “tuition discounts” were offered as a recruiting tool to try to prevent you from enrolling at another school that had accepted you. Now, funding for this type of scholarship is declining as colleges seek to increase revenue to offset the losses suffered thus far due to the pandemic.

Many colleges have taken a huge hit to their endowments funds, the source of many of the needs-based scholarships awarded to students who are socio-economically disadvantaged, members of minority groups, or from rural areas. In addition, many wealthy individuals and foundations that fund private scholarships directly have pulled back from their regular sponsorships.

Summary

Getting into the colleges that fit you best is about to become even more difficult than it has been in the past. If the 10% enrollment decline that’s been forecast holds true and the number of colleges declines by somewhere between 25% to 50%, as forecasted, the competition for the freshman seats that remain can only intensify.

If you would like some help and advice in making your decisions, contact me at [email protected]  I’ve guided hundreds of students to college success!