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How has COVID-19 changed college admissions?

How has COVID-19 changed college admissions?


The global COVID-19 pandemic has without a doubt left an impact on every aspect of our lives, be it the economy and the most important thing – the next generation’s futures. As admissions consultants at Quantum Prep, we have attended IECA’s webinars to keep up to date with US college admission trends. The following is a summary of what we have learned in the past month. Our findings have shocked us, even after our combined decades of admissions consulting experience.

1. Corroborated and full school records are more important than ever

With admissions officers stating that they’ll take grades from online classes with “a spoonful of salt,” universities are placing an even bigger emphasis on past qualifications that can be confirmed, including taking a rigorous course selection, cumulative GPA, and any hard numbers from past public exams, such as the GCSEs, APs, and any SATs or ACTs. Admissions offices are also training their readers to review the student transcripts together with the letters of recommendation, looking for consistent information that stretches multiple years.

What that means for students is that they will need to play an even more active role in having frequent discussions with their subject teachers for letters of recommendation. A negative, or arguably worse, a generic letter may hurt students more than ever. It’s also critical to take any opportunities to sit for standardized tests and get the best results possible. Anything that can corroborate a strong school record will help create a convincing student profile.

2. Test cancellations may not change as much as you think

With both students and colleges in turmoil over SAT and ACT test cancellations, we’ve already seen major changes taking place: 

  • Many universities have announced that they’ll be making the SAT and ACT optional as a trial1“Cal State And Many Other Colleges Go Test Optional | Inside Higher Ed”. Insidehighered.Com, 2020, https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2020/04/20/cal-state-and-many-other-colleges-go-test- optional..
  • Both the College Board (which runs the SAT and APs) and ACT are working hard to establish online “at home”2 “College Board And ACT Announce Plans To Continue Testing In The Fall | Inside Higher Ed”. Insidehighered.Com, 2020, https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2020/04/20/college-board-and-act-announce-plans-continue-testing-fall. versions of their respective tests3“Some Colleges Cite The Coronavirus To Go Test Optional | Inside Higher Ed”. Insidehighered.Com, 2020. https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2020/03/23/some-colleges-cite-coronavirus-go-test-optional 4 “Coronavirus SAT And PSAT-Related Updates”. Account Help, 2020, https://pages.collegeboard.org/sat-covid-19-updates.
  • Athletic coaches are petitioning the NCAA to remove testing requirements for athletes5 “Athletic Recruiting (Webinar)”. 16th April 2020..

But, it’s critical for students to assess these changes in their own contexts. Remember, most policies are made in states for their local students in mind, not Hong Kong students. Universities, especially the most selective ones, will still welcome any hard numbers from past test scores or upcoming tests, even if they are running a Test-Optional policy. These universities still need to find ways to distinguish the “extraordinary” from the “very good,” especially with acceptance rates in the single digits. 

3. Extracurriculars may be cancelled, but that doesn’t mean life has to stop

While universities are expecting all their students to stay home, even in Hong Kong, and follow social distancing guidelines, they’ve also always valued students who show initiative, and that isn’t going to change now. In fact, it has become easier than ever for universities to tell the difference between students who drive changes in their lives and those who only wait passively for opportunities. 

In our connected world, opportunities abound for passionate students to continue to be socially and academically active even while social distancing. Community service is now more about what you’ve done for your family and neighbours. Hobbies and interests are migrating to online platforms that are accessible everywhere. Special talents in music, sports, and more can be showcased in online portfolios. And learning doesn’t need to stop at home, with free online university lectures, books, magazines, and documentaries right on your nearest digital device. 

4. Colleges are looking to boost their visibility too

Students may worry about how their dream colleges are scrutinizing their applications but remember that colleges are also competing among themselves for the best candidates as well! With college campuses closed, summer on-campus events cancelled, and some colleges even considering not resuming in-person classes until January 20216 https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2020/04/13/boston-university-is-first-to-announce-it-may-postpone-its-fall-term-until-january-2021/#36b8670e4bd5 , many colleges are looking to boost their visibility too. This gives students a great opportunity to show demonstrated interest by joining their virtual tours, engaging on social media, even emailing admissions officers who are also stuck at home!


In conclusion, the US college admissions landscape has changed its face. Individuality, initiative and leadership qualities are now valued more than ever and with social distancing restrictions, made more difficult. Every student’s profile, strengths and interests are different, and the way to approach their own college applications must be uniquely strategized. Hong Kong is a tiny city, with a disproportionately large number of intelligent students with incredible scores and talents all fighting for the dismally small places earmarked for international students. The best next steps are speaking to your school counsellors and gaining advantages wherever you can. 



Quantum Prep is an education consultancy that focuses on placing their students at the best colleges or universities. We boast of diverse results. In addition to the traditional rap sheet of prestigious university acceptances, our consultants like to highlight the different paths they have sent students on. All of our students are different; we are proud of our one-on-one tailored approach towards university counselling. Submit your information for a complimentary 30-minute initial meeting, where you can get tailored individualized advice on how to put your best foot forward. 

By Conrad Yu, Director of Development

Published 21-04-2020

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