The Class of 2021, COVID-19, and College Decisions


Alaa El Bouzrati

There appears to be a general consensus that the college admission decisions for the class of 2021 are weird. At first, it seemed that colleges would be more understanding with the lack of the requirements for the applications as COVID-19 would have an inevitable impact. Keeping up with online classes, dealing with the stresses of the global pandemic, having a drastically reduced social life, and time slipping through your fingers are not an ideal way to spend a year, and universities have promised that they understand what seniors are going through and will be as sympathetic as possible.

The good news is that they stayed true to their word...somewhat. Several colleges have decided to go test-optional, which affirms that students will not be penalized for the absence of a standardized test score. Additionally, they are aware that some extracurricular activities have been discontinued; this will not be held against applicants. However, because of this predicament that every student is facing, resilience is expected. Students must make light of the situation and gain advantages from it through exploring their extracurricular pursuits at home or getting creative and starting from scratch.

Moreover, both the Common App and Coalition App have provided a section in the 2020-21 application, which gives students a platform to present more context on how they were affected by Coronavirus. This is a separate section from the regular Additional Information section. Essentially, what colleges care most about isn’t the opportunities you’ve been given or the privileges you possess, but rather what you did with what you had.

The bad news is that universities will inevitably make unfair and biased decisions regarding student admission. For example, what if some choose to submit standardized test scores while others don’t because they have not had the opportunity to do so? How is one students’ application weighted against the other based on their opportunities? While colleges have committed to not penalize students who do not submit those scores, it won’t be as nuanced as we think. SAT/ACT scores hold the same merit and, if satisfactory, will only serve as an advantage to students who submit them, rather than those who can’t.

Furthermore, the debate on whether or not International Baccalaureate exams should take place is another factor that will affect college admissions. As the IB has chosen to leave the choice of examinations in May up to the school, it will negatively impact students gaining college credit. Since IB classes culminate in an exam, students may earn college credit depending on their scores. However, this does not seem fair for schools that have no other choice but to stay online, while other schools allow their students to have a chance at earning college credit, which is out of their hands. In this case, will predicted grades play a more significant role? Perhaps the IB should have taken a unanimous decision for either all schools to take the exams or not for equality.

As a result of some schools following hybrid models that fuse in-person instruction with online learning, determining semester grades is another issue. Whether schools can continue to grade as usual or whether it’s better to move to a pass/fail system has been a school’s independent decision to make, which again gives an advantage to some students while others have a disadvantage, affecting high school transcript globally.

At a time of distance, we must be more united than ever before. High school seniors have already been negatively impacted enough, leaving such significant decisions to individual schools is merely unethical. Yet, while there are several concerns regarding this situation, one is of utmost significance: does COVID-19 have the ability to change college admissions forever?