Update: Since the publication of this report, the government has extended the student loan repayment pause (forbearance) and enacted a wide-sweeping debt forgiveness program. See our report for more details.
With the coronavirus pandemic closing schools across the country, many students and their families are worried about the impact on college admissions. While this time of year is usually reserved for campus visits or taking the SAT, students must now negotiate the admissions process from home.
Although there are sure to be changes in the months to come, here’s what high schoolers and their parents should know at this point:
Admissions tests postponed, AP tests taken at home
Some colleges will be test-optional next year
College visits going virtual
You could get more time to pick a college
Some students might choose schools closer to home
Impact on financial aid remains unclear
Remember that everyone’s in the same boat
For juniors and seniors planning to take the SAT or ACT this spring, test dates have been postponed until June. At this point, the earliest test date for the SAT is June 6, while the ACT has been rescheduled for June 13 — but there’s no guarantee that these test dates won’t need to be canceled as well.
High school students earning credits for college in Advanced Placement (AP) courses, on the other hand, will have the opportunity to take their AP exam from home. The College Board will eliminate multiple-choice questions and instead administer open-response, 45-minute tests online. (Normally, the tests span three hours.)
How colleges will evaluate the results from these home-based AP exams — and whether they’ll accept high marks on them for college course credit — could vary on a school-by-school basis.
Before you panic about missing the SAT or ACT, rest assured that a growing number of colleges are going test-optional next year. In fact, there are already a number of schools across the country that don’t require scores from admissions tests.
Boston University, for example, is making test scores optional for students applying for Fall 2020 or Spring 2021, and Tufts University is waiving testing requirements for the next three years.
“I hope our SAT and ACT test-optional policy provides a modicum of humanity, clarity and control to those just embarking on their college search process at a moment in time when our world is facing unprecedented challenges,” wrote Tufts Dean of Admissions Joseph Duck in a blog post on the Tufts University website.
If you’re worried you won’t be able to take the SAT or ACT in time for your college applications, do some research through the websites of your schools of choice or reach out to their admissions offices directly. And remember that even if schools haven’t put test-optional policies in place yet, they may do so in the near future.
Without getting the chance to visit college campuses, you might be stressed about selecting a school. While in-person visits and programs aren’t really an option right now, many colleges do offer virtual tours on their websites.
Plus, some schools are setting up video chats, allowing prospective students to speak with current ones or to meet remotely with admissions officers and professors. With classes moving online, some students may also be able to “sit in” on virtual lectures and discussion groups.
Finally, students are turning to admissions forums, Reddit and other online groups to share their thoughts and experiences. Even though you can’t visit a campus in person, you can use online resources and social media to learn more about a school’s amenities and community.
Given the current climate, a growing number of colleges are pushing back the typical deadline for college decisions for seniors. While most require a commitment by May 1, dubbed “National Decision Day,” some are now giving students an extra month, pushing back the date to June 1.
Nonprofit organization ACCEPT is tracking the colleges that have changed to a June 1 decision deadline. You can check their list here, though also note that it’s always best to go to the source, so also reach out to schools directly to find out when you need to make a decision.
This time of crisis isn’t just impacting test dates and college deadlines; it might also influence students’ decisions about where to attend college. In a survey of 300 students conducted by Quatromoney and TuitionFit, almost 33% of inbound freshmen said they were rethinking their college choice because they wanted to be closer to home.
Meanwhile, more than 28% said they were worried about tuition costs and were considering attending a less expensive school. And more than 1 in 5 students voiced concern about contracting COVID-19 at one of the schools they had put on their original list.
While Quatromoney CEO Patrick Kandianis acknowledged that the data collected in this survey was limited, he said that colleges might see changes in the number of admissions offers being accepted or deferred as compared to previous years.
Likewise, founder of college admissions consultancy Ivy Insight, Aviva Legatt, wrote in Forbes that colleges will also likely see a decline in international student enrollment, citing data showing more than one-third of Chinese students changing their plans to attend U.S. schools.
At this point, it’s too soon to tell how financial aid will be impacted in the months to come. If your family has lost income due to the coronavirus, you could be eligible for more financial aid as a result.
At the same time, Legatt said, there could be a decrease in funding on the federal and institutional levels during an economic downturn, leading to fewer and smaller grants and scholarships.
If your circumstances have changed, you might be able to update your FAFSA with your current information to access additional aid.
As a high school student (or as the parent of one), you might be worried that your chances of admission will be hurt in the year to come. But remember that everyone’s in the same boat, and colleges are making accommodations to account for the current crisis.
While admissions officers understand that in-person classes and high school extracurriculars have been canceled, some college counselors suggest using this time to get creative about self-enrichment. Maybe you can take an online course, develop a new hobby or find a way to help your community virtually.
At the same time, remember to make your mental health a priority during this time of stress and uncertainty. Take care of yourself and your family, and remember that everyone is scrambling to adjust to changing circumstances as they come.
Finally, take advantage of colleges’ virtual offerings to learn about schools and stay up to date with new developments. Even if you can’t visit colleges in person right now, you can stay connected online.
For more news and resources, head to Student Loan Hero’s coronavirus information center here.