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4 Ways COVID-19 Is Affecting Fall 2021 College Applications


Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some colleges and universities have changed the application process for the upcoming Fall 2021 application cycle. These changes are meant to help applicants and may include application deadlines, required application materials, and financial aid applications and awards.

If you're planning to apply to college this fall, it's important you know about these changes and how they might affect you. In this article, we'll help you navigate changes to the college application process due to the COVID-19 epidemic by describing four ways that these changes may affect college applicants. We'll also provide four tips for how to proceed if your college application is affected by COVID-19.

Take a deep breath: we're here to help you navigate the changes to the admissions process. Now, let's take a look at the Fall 2021 admissions process.



Like most aspects of life, the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way the college application process works, too.


4 Ways That COVID-19 Could Affect Your 2021 College Applications

While admissions changes due to COVID-19 will vary from school to school, there are some general changes to college applications that you can probably expect to encounter during the application process this fall.

Check out the details on four ways that COVID-19 may affect your Fall 2021 college application below.


#1: SAT/ACT Requirements

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of SAT and ACT dates throughout 2020 and into 2021. These cancellations made it difficult for many applicants to take the exams in time for school deadlines.

Many schools have decided to address this problem by going test-optional for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years. Test optional means that SAT and ACT scores won't be required as part of your application packet. You can choose to submit standardized test scores if you'd like them to be considered, but opting not to submit SAT/ACT scores won't hurt your chances of getting into college.

If you're wondering whether your schools have gone test optional, don't worry. We've put together a complete list of colleges and universities that have gone test optional due to COVID-19. You should also double-check each of your schools' admissions websites for the most up-to-date information.

Keep in mind that just because the schools you're applying to have gone test optional doesn't mean you'll be able to get out of SAT or ACT testing entirely. Some states require you take the SAT or ACT to graduate, for example. And many scholarships require you to submit standardized test scores in order to be considered for the award.


#2: Extracurriculars

It's common knowledge that colleges want to see "well-rounded" applicants. That means they aren't just looking at your grades or test scores. Colleges also consider your involvement outside of the classroom in their decision to offer admission.

But COVID-19 has affected how some students are able to interact with their school and local communities this year. Many schools had to cancel extracurricular activities for safety reasons, and community gatherings are currently prohibited in most states. If you're seeking membership in an honors society or hoping to qualify for a scholarship that requires a certain number of service hours, for example, COVID-19 may make it difficult to fulfill these requirements before college applications are due this fall.

There is good news, though. Over 140 colleges and universities (including all of the Ivy League schools) have endorsed a statement encouraging parents and high schools to place more emphasis on students' ethical character and less emphasis on excessive achievement pressure. In other words, universities are going to be more understanding if there's a "gap" in the narrative of your activities and achievements on your applications due to the COVID-19 crisis.

But just because you're unable to participate in formal, school-based extracurricular activities doesn't mean you aren't engaging in activities that demonstrate ethical character right now. For instance, if you spent parts of 2020 and/or 2021 caring for younger family members or working to support your family, many schools will see these efforts as valuable components of your college application this fall.



The coronavirus is impacting many families' income levels, unfortunately. That may create a discrepancy between how much financial aid you need and how much aid you qualify for.


#3: Financial Aid

Applying for financial aid is a major part of the college application process. For most college applicants, this means filling out the FAFSA so that you'll be eligible for receiving federal and state grants or loans.

While not a requirement at most schools, it's a good rule of thumb to complete and submit the FAFSA around the time that you submit your application for admission. At this time, the FAFSA application for 2021-2022 financial aid will become available on October 1, 2021. As you think about submitting the FAFSA, there are some ways that COVID-19 might affect the information you report on your FAFSA application that you haven't considered yet.

Here's what we mean: when you complete the FAFSA, you have to report you or your family's income, which affects how much federal aid you're eligible to receive. But there's a chance your family has experienced financial hardship due to COVID-19. The FAFSA you file during fall 2021 or spring 2022 is going to look at your family's income from 2019 or maybe even 2018. This could mean that the financial situation you're required to report on your FAFSA application might not reflect your family's current experience.

If the income you're required to report on the FAFSA doesn't reflect the reality of your family's financial need since COVID-19 happened, you should talk directly to university admissions at the schools you're applying to and see what financial aid resources are available to students who are in your situation.

On top of figuring out the FAFSA next fall, many students who were planning to participate in regional, state-wide, or national academic, athletic, agricultural, or music competitions this spring or summer might be concerned that the cancellation of these events will negatively affect their eligibility for scholarships associated with these competitions.

Don't count out these scholarship opportunities just because competitions are cancelled, though. Many associations and organizations are proceeding with scholarship applications and awards despite the cancellation of spring competitions, conventions, and conferences. You should check in with your advisor and/or coach, then check your organization's website for updates about scholarship opportunities.


#4: Application Fee Waivers

Most schools require that you pay a fee in order to apply for college. These can add up if you choose to apply to multiple schools. Many colleges and universities provide applications for fee waivers through their financial aid department. Some schools have chosen to expand their criteria for fee waiver eligibility to accommodate students experiencing financial hardship due to COVID-19 as well.

To see if you qualify for a fee waiver, check with your individual schools. Some application organizations, like the Common App, are providing additional information about fee waivers, too.



If your ACT or SAT exam date has been cancelled, don't forget to keep studying! That will make sure you're well prepared for your rescheduled exam.


5 Tips for Students Whose College Applications Are Affected by COVID-19

While COVID-19 has made things pretty unpredictable where college applications are concerned, there are steps you can take if you're worried your application process will be affected by the pandemic. Keep reading for four tips on how to handle your college application process during COVID-19.


Tip 1: Keep Your SAT/ACT Study Materials Handy

Though many schools have chosen to go test-optional for students planning to submit applications during Fall 2021, chances are one of the schools or scholarships you're applying to will still keep the SAT/ACT score requirement. Additionally, top-tier schools, including each of the Ivy Leagues, saw a surge in applications last year, and they each had their most competitive year ever. Therefore, even if the schools you're applying to don't require test scores this year, taking the SAT or ACT and getting a strong score can be a great way (as well as one of the fastest and easiest) to strengthen your applications.

Even if your original test date was cancelled, try to see if you can reschedule.  If you can, try to keep up on your studying in the meantime, too. This might be the perfect opportunity to make flashcards or other study resources to help you brush up on the test material! It's also probably a good idea to take a couple of practice exams again in the weeks leading up to your test date, if possible.


Tip 2: Get Creative With Your Extracurriculars

Track and field, soccer, lacrosse, choir competitions, state FFA conventions: these are just a few of the extracurricular activities that may have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many high school students are stressing out about what that means for their college applications. How will you show admissions committees that you're involved, well-rounded, and high-achieving student?

While there isn't anything that can truly replace the wonderful experience that these activities provide, there are activities you can engage in while social distancing that will read as just as valuable on your college applications.

Consider brainstorming ways to support first responders and essential workers in your community with your friends from school. While you may not be able to do hands-on volunteering, you may be able to put together masks or other care packages from home. You can also think about ways to help raise awareness about how to behave safely during the pandemic. The key here is to think outside the box!

There are countless ways you can give back in meaningfully during this time. While these activities are important and valuable in and of themselves, if you need them on a college application, they'll also fit right in under "volunteer work" or "community involvement."



When in doubt, contact your university! Don't be afraid to call or email universities' admissions offices with your questions. Admissions counselors are there to help you!


Tip 3: Reach Out to University Admissions

If you anticipate that COVID-19 will impact your college application process — whether that's financially or otherwise — the most important thing you can do is contact the admissions office of your chosen colleges and universities and talk with a university rep about your situation.

Many university admissions websites specifically state that they're willing to make accommodations for affected applicants on a case-by-case basis. The only way you can benefit from this recognition of extenuating circumstances is to communicate clearly about yours as soon as possible.

The earlier you're able to reach out about your situation, the more likely it is that you'll be able to receive help with aspects of your application that you're having trouble getting together, or find support with some of the financial aspects of applying to college that may be a burden.


Tip 4: Check Your University's Website Often

Colleges are adapting to the COVID-19 epidemic as quickly as possible, but that means many institutions are still making COVID-related adjustments to their admissions policies. All of these will be posted on schools' admissions websites to help keep students informed.

Additionally, the information that's on a school's website will be the most accurate and up-to-date info available. So if you hear something from a friend or see a post circulating on social media about COVID-19 admission changes at a particular university, be sure to double-check the school's admissions page as well!


Tip 5: Sign Up for Mailing Lists

The best way to get up-to-the-minute info on what's happening regarding applications and admissions at the schools you're considering is to sign up for university email lists.

Schools will send frequent updates about application requirements and submission, dates for offers of admission, and prospective student events. Reading these updates can help you stay on top of what's expected of you as an applicant or admitted student, and you'll know if there are changes that affect you as soon as they're announced.




What's Next?

As we mentioned earlier, ACT dates have been cancelled and postponed due to COVID-19. For all the latest information about the canceled exams, test date rescheduling, and test fee refunds, check out this article.

The SAT has also had cancellations and rescheduling due to the pandemic. Here's the article that goes over everything you need to know.

If you're in AP classes, there have been some changes to the AP exams, too. Now you'll be taking your AP tests online. This article on the test changes will answer all of your FAQs and give you tips for how to conquer the new exam format.



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Ashley Robinson
About the Author

Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.

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