College Admissions in a Year of Uncertainty

A Senior Associate Director of Admissions answers questions including how admissions offices handle missed or swapped classes, how students can be the best applicants, and how this year's deferrals may impact next year's admissions.
Student walking on campus

It's the beginning of college admissions season for high school seniors, and I recently presented a webinar with MEFA on all aspects of the college admissions process. If you missed the webinar, you can listen to a full recording here. We received some additional questions from families after the webinar, and, considering these are some of the most common questions I'm receiving these days, I wanted to share the answers for all to read.

Q: How are college admissions offices viewing all of the turmoil of missed or swapped classes for high school seniors? Some classes aren't being offered, some substitutions have been made, etc.

A: The most important part of any application review has always been perspective. Every application reader needs to understand the courses offered and the grading structure at each high school while reviewing an application. This important information is delivered to us by the college guidance office at high schools in the form of the counselor recommendation and the school profile. These are vital parts to the student's application. This year, more than ever before, admissions readers will be paying particularly close attention to those documents to gain this vital perspective. So we'll know this information (what classes have been removed, what substitutions have been made, etc.) when reviewing applications.

Q: How can students be the best possible applicant in this very strange time?

A: Last spring was filled with interrupted coursework, canceled standardized tests, and incredible academic and personal challenges; and while we don't know the full extent of what will happen this fall, we do know that high school seniors have absolute control over the work that they put into their classes this fall term. Students should demonstrate to colleges that they are finding their stride academically, no matter the challenges presented. Whether their school will be meeting in person, remotely, or a combination of the two, students should focus on the road ahead; they should make every effort to connect with their teachers and demonstrate the kind of effort and resilience that each college is looking for in an applicant for admission.

Q: What impact will the deferrals of students for this year have on admissions for fall 2021?

A: There is still too much unknown about what this college application cycle will be like and we are still many months away from most application deadlines. So much could change globally between now and then that could affect how students and families think about their college options and how colleges and universities think about their enrollment policies. As with anything that is unknown and, at the same time, out of one's control, it's best for students to focus on the three factors well within their control: their effort in the classroom this fall, the attitude they bring to their essay, and their positive engagement in the college admissions process.

If students have particular questions about a college's admission process or policies, they should reach out to their admissions representative at that school. Students can also find helpful information for this year's college admissions process, and how it may differ than other years, on college and university websites.