How COVID-19 Impacts College Admissions and Applications

Editor’s note: This post has been last updated on April 6, 2020. While this post may have some useful information regarding college admissions during the COVID-19 crisis, please check out our live COVID-19 updates post for the latest information.

a few coronavirus cells clustered near each other -image by magoosh

When you’re making big plans for the future during the COVID-19 pandemic, everything can seem up in the air. This vagueness can cause even more student stress. But as you make decisions about college admissions, know that college admissions offices are working to respond to these unprecedented circumstances, and they’re taking student concerns to heart.

In this post, we’ll take a look at how admissions offices are adapting to the situation, as well as what you can do to get the resources you need right now.

If you have questions about standardized testing, take a look at Magoosh’s live updates on the situation.

How does COVID-19 impact students applying for Fall 2021 admission?

You may be applying to colleges with rolling deadlines, or maybe you’re finishing your junior year and are worrying about putting together applications during this coming fall. Depending on when your deadlines are, best practices will vary a little bit.

If you’re worried about applying to colleges next year, know that the entire admissions cohort is in the same situation you currently are. If your school has moved to online lessons, do your best to finish your coursework as well as you can right now. If you can’t take a standardized test, check out your options for the future and, if necessary, keep prepping regularly, even if just for a few minutes a day.

Test Scores

Particularly because the SAT has been cancelled for May and June 2020, it’s really important to check each and every school you’re applying to. The UC system has just announced that they have become test-optional for fall 2020 admissions. We wouldn’t be surprised to see other schools following suit—keep checking in with the National Association for College Admission Counseling, where 900+ searchable schools are posting and updating information, for updates.

If you’ve already taken the ACT or SAT, should you still submit your scores if schools have made them optional? Generally, yes. Even if the score is lower than you’d like, the admissions committee will consider it neutral at worst. It’ll also show that you took the initiative to take the standardized test early. The SAT/ACT score can only help you.

There may be other benefits to submitting scores, as well. In the UC system, taking the SAT or ACT can support statewide UC eligibility, application for certain scholarships, and help fulfill some university graduation requirements. For example, students can waive their introductory writing course if they score above 30 on the ELA part of the ACT or above 680 on the Evidence-Based Writing section of the SAT.

Important note! If you’re applying for admissions beyond Fall 2021, there is no guarantee that the ACT/SAT requirements will still be suspended at UC schools or any others who choose to waive these requirements right now. It’s a good idea to keep prepping regularly for your exam in the meantime.


Again, this will depend on the school. We do know that the UC system has suspended letter grade requirement for college prep (A-G) courses completed in winter/spring/summer 2020 for all students, including UC’s most recently admitted freshmen. Why is this important? Because of high school closures, some schools have adopted “pass/fail” or “credit/no credit” grading instead of letter grades for A-G courses needed to qualify for UC admission.

Other Application Components

If you have to finish your applications ASAP, make sure you reach out to professors by email to ask for letters of recommendation. If they are open to it, you may ask them to set up a remote video meeting to discuss your college applications. (This also goes for your guidance counselor!) Know that many schools are open to receiving materials like test scores late or even foregoing them right now—but again, you’ll need to check in with their websites, or even admissions officers, directly.

There are some activities—particularly extracurricular—that will be hard to accomplish right now. Colleges have made it clear that this is happening to everyone, and they will not hold it against you. Please do not attempt to participate in group activities right now!

However, these activities are more than just fodder for college apps—we know they can also be important on mental, physical, and emotional levels. If this is true for you, see what digital and solo options are available to you. If you’re missing out on team sports, this might mean replacing practice with runs to keep your conditioning up. If you’ve been volunteering, see what no-contact options (like delivering food to immunocompromised or older neighbors’ doors) are available.

Extracurricular activities may seem frivolous right now, but they’re the farthest thing from it—focus on what keeps you happy and healthy.

Will colleges delay decisions and acceptances?

There are a few important things to keep in mind this spring. First of all, many admission offices are doing their very best to keep to a regular schedule. Schools like the University of Wisconsin, Princeton University, and Stanford University have announced their intentions to release admissions information according to their previously posted schedules.

With that in mind, not all colleges have posted information online. A lot of students have questions right now, and many schools are working with a smaller group of remote staff. Because of this, we highly recommend checking out the information at the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

If you still can’t find the information that you need, email the admissions offices at the schools you’ve applied to. Don’t call; almost all physical offices are currently closed, with their workers working remotely. Expect to wait at least a few days for an answer.

Will college offer extensions or change deadlines?

This, too, will vary by college. The National Association of College Admission Counseling has put together a database of colleges who have changed their admission processes due to COVID-19. You can search by school name.

We are seeing some colleges postponing their admission acceptance deadlines. This varies widely by school, so be sure to check in with the NACAC or your individual schools when they haven’t contributed to the larger database.

The only widely adopted change so far is extending the day to submit deposits to colleges (June 1 instead of May 1). There’s a crowdsourced Google document of schools with deposit deadlines of June 1 or later that you can check (and keep checking as others update it). More than 200 colleges have deferred the deposit deadline thus far, and more are likely to follow.

How does this impact my college admissions decisions?

The main impact college applicants will see is that most colleges are temporarily closing. This means that school touring is almost universally unavailable. Even if it is not, we highly encourage you to avoid large groups right now.

This can be hugely disappointing—visiting colleges can play a big role in your decision-making process. However, there are other options out there, as colleges adapt to online models. Many schools offer virtual tours of their campuses. Even others are having virtual college admissions events.

Of course, some of the best information you can get from a college tour comes from seeing the “non-official” sides of campus. You still have options to do this, though! Search for videos from current students on YouTube. Get in contact with current students at schools you’ve been admitted to and ask them questions (try to do so through the admissions department if at all possible).

Although virtual options are more limited than visiting schools, you can still evaluate colleges on these “tours” using the same types of criteria you would in person. Converse with students. Research and take notes. And find out as much as you can about the city and area around the campus.

University Specific Resources

There are thousands of colleges out there, and their responses to COVID-19 change as the situation changes. NYU has posted thorough info on its admissions page; Amherst has set up a separate page; Utica has compiled a collection of resources. In the coming days, you’ll likely see all colleges and universities adopt similar notices on their admissions sites.

In the meantime, keep checking in with the NACAC website and the sites for your specific schools. And most importantly, stay safe and healthy.

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  • Rachel Kapelke-Dale

    Rachel is a Magoosh Content Creator. She writes and updates content on our High School and GRE Blogs to ensure students are equipped with the best information during their test prep journey. As a test-prep instructor for more than five years in there different countries, Rachel has helped students around the world prepare for various standardized tests, including the SAT, ACT, TOEFL, GRE, and GMAT, and she is one of the authors of our Magoosh ACT Prep Book. Rachel has a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature from Brown University, an MA in Cinematography from the Université de Paris VII, and a Ph.D. in Film Studies from University College London. For over a decade, Rachel has honed her craft as a fiction and memoir writer and public speaker. Her novel, THE BALLERINAS, is forthcoming in December 2021 from St. Martin's Press, while her memoir, GRADUATES IN WONDERLAND, co-written with Jessica Pan, was published in 2014 by Penguin Random House. Her work has appeared in over a dozen online and print publications, including Vanity Fair Hollywood. When she isn't strategically stringing words together at Magoosh, you can find Rachel riding horses or with her nose in a book. Join her on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

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