2021 College Admissions Trends: How COVID-19 Comes Into Play

College Admissions - COVID-19 How does COVID-19 affect college admissions this 2021?

With COVID-19 upending educational systems worldwide, institutions have done their best to cope and adapt to the crisis. In turn, this has created huge shifts in the college admissions landscape.

The surge of applicants in larger colleges has prompted institutions to be more flexible in tackling application, admissions, and enrollment. However, there’s still no foretelling if these changes are permanent or just a temporary quickened pace brought about by the pandemic. Regardless, it’s best to stay informed about these developments to increase your chances of being admitted to your school of choice.

Below are some college admissions trends you should take note of when applying:

More colleges continue extending test-optional policies

Since test centers pose great health risks, colleges have adopted test-optional admissions temporarily. There are institutions that have been practicing this strategy pre-pandemic and will remain to do so even after the COVID-19 outbreak.

Test-optional policies in schools mean that students and potential scholars will not be required to submit their SAT or ACT scores. Other aspects of the application process such as grades, extracurricular activities, college essays, and letters of recommendation will have more bearing in the admission.

To date, there are over 900 top-tier universities which have de-emphasized test scores. However, a study has questioned the effectiveness of its implementation, saying that it did not do much to diversify college populations.

Furthermore, some colleges claim an “optional but preferred” testing policy that still ends up accepting more students with test scores over those without.

As a rule of thumb, it would be better for you to take the SAT or ACT if you’re:

  • Planning to play a college sport and apply for athletic scholarship
  • Pursuing a merit or need-based aid
  • Looking for a last resort to enhance your application

Increasing number of applicants = decreasing acceptance rates

College applicants in “top-tier” and competitive schools have been at an all-time high. As a result, schools have become more particular with their college admissions.

Even as it saw a 23% increase in candidates and scholars this cycle, the University of Pennsylvania has accepted a record-low of 15% early decision applicants. In the same way, MIT gained a 62% increase in early applications from last year.

The number of waitlisted students has also spiked, while their chances of being accepted off a waitlist dipped, in turn. According to Princeton College Consulting co-founder Benjamin Caldarelli, the trend of adding more waitlisted students is “a practical solution from a school’s perspective” since it allows flexibility in managing college admissions offers.

Admission officers to check applicants’ social media profiles

With the growing involvement of the youth in social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate, institutions are being called to hold accountability over its students. Acts of racism and hate speech on social media have become grounds for the revokement of college admissions offers.

According to a Kaplan survey, the rate of college admissions officers who visit applicants’ social media pages have increased by 36% last year. Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram have become references for a student’s character and [online] etiquette— things which were only previously measured through interviews and essays.


COVID-19 has not only significantly altered college admissions processes, but it has also posed a challenge for schools to step up and implement more holistic approaches for its students. While the future for college admissions remains uncertain, you can still control how you respond to these challenges— and the first step is by keeping yourself up-to-date with the trends.