The initial impact of Covid-19 on US admissions for internationals

I wrote the following email on March 26th and it was so well-received that I decided to post it on the website:
Has Covid-19 affected admissions and will it continue to do so? In a nutshell, yes.  Covid-19 has already affected admissions this year and I hesitate to make firm predictions regarding next year’s intake. That said, I hope this email can shed some light on pros and cons of US admissions in the current climate. Everything is in constant flux and a lot can change. With this understanding, here are some of my current observations and thoughts:

 (Trinidadian) students are being rejected and wait-listed from more schools than usual  
College admissions is tough.  But this wave of rejections and waitlists, particularly from the prestige schools, is not typical. 4 out of 5 candidates will get rejected from at least one of their reach schools, but with students reporting rejections and waitlists across their targets and safeties as well, I have to sit up and take notice. Parents and students, we need to brace ourselves for some tough decisions ahead.  

Rejections are up because more need-based candidates are applying to the need-based schools, giving these universities a greater pool of applicants to consider. Waitlists are up because universities are worried about their yields (i.e. the percentage of students colleges admit who will choose to attend.). Universities recognize that, in this uncertain climate, some students have applied to more schools to preserve optionality and other students may choose to stay closer to home (see point 3.) By creating a larger than usual waitlist, these universities are making sure to have strong candidates to fall back on if yield is down.

The bad news – if you’re on the waitlist, so are a lot of other people.  The good news – if universities’ yields actually do go down, more people will be accepted off the waitlist than usual.

 Financial aid is going to be tough and will matter to some schools more than ever before
Many students who have received acceptances report financial aid lower than expected or no financial assistance at all.  With endowments down, need-aware schools are clearly practicing their right to choose students who can pay the full sticker price of admission. For the lucky few students who will be accepted from the waitlist, this pool will most likely skew heavily towards those who do not need money.  
 
Other universities are offering higher scholarships, which is good news
While some universities are battening down the hatches because of endowments, others are struggling to meet enrollment numbers and are worried that their applicant pool will be smaller (and less diverse) if students choose to apply to universities closer to home. This is good news for the students, because it actually creates opportunities for applicants to get into colleges and/or to receive higher scholarships if they fit the right criteria. In fact, some accepted students reported increases in scholarships when they tried to withdraw those applications in favor of a different school. If your first choice school has accepted you, but has not offered the money you need, make sure to turn this into a conversation. Make your commitment to the school clear, and hope that they can increase their aid packages slightly in order to secure your enrollment.

 Trinidadian students are rushing to send in applications to Trinidadian tertiary institutions
“Should I stay closer to home this year?”
“It’s too early to say, but if you’re asking should you keep your options open, then the answer is most definitely yes.”


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had variations on this conversation over the past week. There are many reasons that COVID-19 has students thinking about staying closer to home: it’s cheaper, it’s nearer to loved ones in case something goes wrong, it’s unclear whether travel bans will still be in place in August, there will be a shortage of foreign currency available. If you’re not thinking about it yet, these are all good reasons you should consider sending in local applications. Another good reason – many US universities will accept transfer credits and the transfer process is fairly straightforward. Hopefully, an increase in applications doesn’t make the acceptance rates at local institutions too competitive.
 
Universities are doing everything they can to figure this out alongside you
This environment is scary for sure, but the universities are right there, working hard to do the best thing for current and future students.  Based on numerous conversations with admissions officers over the past few weeks, here are some of the key takeaways:

1. Admissions officers recognize that students may not have access to the same funds they did pre-pandemic and are pushing to increase aid for their students. They are open to conversations about all student concerns in this time of uncertainty. 2. A large number of universities are going test-optional for 2020 and 2021 intake, recognizing that standardized tests have been canceled or may represent a greater financial strain for parents this year. 3. Professors are rapidly converting class materials to better teach remote classes and online curriculums if necessary.  4. More universities are open to students who get accepted and choose to defer that acceptance to spring, summer or the following fall.

We all have so many questions about how education will be impacted for students of every age over the coming year.  From light-hearted jokes about homeschooling to deeper concerns about how this will affect low-income students, it boils down to the same thing: we are all just trying to navigate uncertain waters. This week, I’m going to send out online university courses that will look great on student resumes and help to expand their horizons, digital volunteering opportunities, and suggested reading lists for summer.  

It’s important to recognize that none of us knows how this will play out but we’re all figuring it out together, from universities to counselors to parents and students. Flexibility and innovation will be critical in the coming months and I welcome questions and observations that I can incorporate into my own response to this pandemic.

Leave a Reply