How are college admissions changing in response to the coronavirus?

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Last updated April 23 to reflect Cornell's changes.

As school closures and testing cancellations spread worldwide, U.S. colleges and universities are slowly but surely releasing updates to their admissions policies. As ArborBridge anticipated, admissions offices are so far responding to this public health crisis with sympathy and generosity. 

Here are the highlights of what we know so far. We’ve focused on the top-ranked universities and liberal arts colleges in the U.S. We’ll keep this post updated as noteworthy changes continue.

Major updates from leading schools

  • Cornell is now the first Ivy League school to have dropped SAT & ACT scores from fall 2020 admissions requirements. However, Cornell "still expects to receive test scores from many students, and scores could be 'a meaningful differentiator' for those who live near or attend schools that are open for testing or whose families didn’t lose income or face other hardships this year," according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • MIT, the last school to have formally required Subject Tests, not only dropped them the week of March 23 but noted that they will not even consider Subject Test scores from students who submit them.

  • Harvard was the first school to release a formal statement to high school juniors regarding the impact of the coronavirus:

    • Harvard acknowledges that students will have fewer chances to retake the SAT and ACT and says they hope students “will not feel compelled” to take these exams multiple times.

    • Harvard claims students will not be disadvantaged if they are unable to submit Subject Test or AP scores, if some of their class marks are Pass/Fail only, or if their extracurricular activities are limited as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

    • Harvard maintains that “our revolutionary financial aid program will not be compromised in any way.”

  • Dartmouth announced on April 13 that Subject Tests are now optional instead of recommended.

ArborBridge’s takeaway: Elite schools are often bellwethers for the rest of higher education. We can expect to see other schools similarly soften their policies and offer encouraging allowances to students. However, students who have access to testing should still plan to test. As noted in the caveat to Cornell's announcement above, schools will likely still expect students to submit scores if they had access to test sites and dates, especially if their families did not experience financial hardship due to the pandemic. Moreover, financially stable students who can score in higher percentiles on the SAT and ACT may need those scores to help differentiate them from their peers and make their applications competitive.

Broader test-optional growth

The test-optional wave that began over the last few years has certainly seen a rise from the  coronavirus. In one recent significant update, the University of California announced several changes for fall 2020 applicants, including the following:

  • Suspending standardized testing requirements

  • Suspending letter grade requirements for 2020

  • Confirming they will award credit for the at-home AP exams

Here are other highly selective schools that have gone test-optional:

  • Amherst College 

  • Boston University

  • Case Western Reserve University

  • Pomona College

  • Swarthmore College

  • Williams College

See the full list of schools with test-optional policies at FairTest

Leniency across the board

Many selective schools - including Columbia, Notre Dame, Wellesley, Pomona, and Middlebury - have updated their admissions pages to suggest leniency for future applicants. Some examples:

  • From Columbia: “we understand that daily activities in some communities have been curtailed, including the ability to participate in school, extracurricular activities, and other events and gatherings. We want to assure affected applicants that their safety and well-being is paramount, and these conditions will not negatively impact their applications to Columbia.” 

  • From Middlebury: “We are aware that many schools are modifying their educational models in order to keep the virus from spreading. Middlebury will work with your school to understand the modifications put in place and will not allow these changes to negatively impact your application review. We expect that you will fulfill the expectations set forth by your school to complete your high school diploma.”

ArborBridge’s Takeaway: Expect to see more schools add similar statements if school closures and test cancellations continue into the summer.

Widespread changes to college visit access

A vast number of college campuses are closed across the U.S. College visits are thus largely off the table, though some schools have moved to virtual tours. If you or your student is hoping to visit a school, assume this is not possible for the time being unless the school’s website says otherwise. Check individual school admissions pages to find out when they anticipate reopening, or to research remote “visiting” options.

Need more individualized advice?

The exclusions listed above are for some of the most popular AP tests. If you have specific questions or want a personalized plan, reach out to our experts here. We’re happy to help in any way we can.

ArborBridge is hard at work tracking the latest developments. We’ll be updating this post as new information, test dates, and cancellations are announced.


About ArborBridge

ArborBridge is the global leader in innovative, digital, one-on-one tutoring. With nearly a decade of experience teaching students online, ArborBridge supports students of all kinds: home schoolers, AP students, test preppers, and more. Our tutors specialize in creating personalized plans and in providing compassionate support for students and families.

About Eleanor Sharp

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