Coronavirus Ushering in Admissions Changes

We never thought we’d say this, but we happen to agree with many of the points raised in Frank Bruni’s editorial today in The New York Times on elite college admissions.

Will the COVID-19 pandemic inspire real, lasting change in the highly selective college admissions process or are the changes for this admissions cycle only temporary? There’s an editorial in today’s New York Times by Frank Bruni, “The Coronavirus May Change College Admissions Forever,” that praises the release of a forthcoming book on college admissions by Jeffrey Selingo and offers up two predictions for the world of college admissions post-pandemic: (1) elite colleges will fill more slots through Early Decision / Early Action than ever before and (2) these schools will no longer value test scores, such as the SAT and ACT, as they once did.

Elite Colleges Will Rely More Heavily on Early Round

As loyal readers of our college admissions blog know all too well, we’ve got a crystal ball at Ivy Coach. And our crystal ball happens to agree with both predictions. With respect to Early Decision / Early Action, Bruni writes, “Selingo predicts that many schools that allow ‘early decision’ applications, with which a student sets his or her sights on one preferred institution and commits to attending it if accepted, will fill more of their slots that way than ever, meaning that these applications will have better odds of success than ones submitted later. Schools leaned extra hard on early decision in the shadow of the Great Recession, he said, and now face the same economic anxiety, the same motivation to figure out as soon as possible which new students will be arriving and how much financial aid they’ll need.” Ding ding! The assessment is spot on. The more anxious a school is about its bottom line, the more that school will wish to fill slots in its incoming class with Early candidates.

Elite Colleges Will Rely Less Heavily on SAT, ACT Scores

And with respect to standardized tests, Bruni writes, “‘The SAT’s downgrade won’t be fleeting,’ Selingo said. ‘We’re going to have a whole admissions year with scores of places going test-optional,’ he said. ‘Once their world doesn’t come crashing down and they still recruit a class, those colleges are not going to flock back to the test. I think it’s been knocked off the pedestal permanently.'” Ding ding again! The world is not going to collapse because elite colleges are being forced to admit students without certain test scores and many of these universities that went test-optional this year will choose to remain test-optional. That said, regular readers of our college admissions blog know how we feel about test-optional policies: they aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. As long as students are allowed to submit scores, all else being equal, students who submit great scores will always have an advantage over students who don’t submit scores — in spite of what these schools tell you to the contrary.

Agree with these predictions? Disagree? Let us know your thoughts by posting a Comment below. We look forward to hearing from you.


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  • Jefferson Bowen says:

    After reviewing a pre-publication copy of Selingo’s “Who Gets In and Why” I say keep your money in your pocket. The book doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know about college admissions.

    • Jeff Selingo says:

      Jefferson — Just curious how you got a pre-publication copy since the book isn’t released until next week?

      • Leigh Moore says:

        As we enter another admission cycle, I am particularly grateful for Jeff Selingo’s latest book. Balancing a dignified writing style with remarkable candor, he effectively communicates the reality of market forces which are anything but personal.

        Students bring all kinds of chips to the table when they apply to college.
        For years, SATs and ACTs have proven to be some of the best assets when the time comes to cash out and invest in the future. In 2020, the most valuable currency will necessarily be the green kind. Students with strong enough academic records who are willing and able to pay college costs are probably going to find that those score reports really are/were quite optional.

        It’s not fair, and we don’t like it. But significant freedom comes with understanding the truth. To Selingo’s point, maybe it’s good news that the dynamic isn’t personal. Or maybe it’s discouraging to discover it never was.

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