How has COVID Affected Trends in College & Graduate School?

In 2020, COVID-19 changed the world as we knew it. Between masks, quarantining, and illness, a domino effect of change was sent like shockwaves through society. Not to be spared, college and graduate school trends were impacted from the rippling effects of our “new normal”.

Over the last two years, colleges have had to face challenges of shutting down school campuses and adapting to online learning, but what colleges were not prepared for was the plummeting percentage of college enrollment. On the other hand, graduate schools have had the opposite effect. Research shows that there is about a 20 percent increase in graduate school applications since 2020. The chaos of a global pandemic shifted admission trends in both positive and negative ways.

College Admission Trends

In the height of the pandemic, there was little appeal to getting a college experience virtually. Yes, students want to continue their academic pursuits, but for many, living on campus and attending in-person classes is an essential component of “the college experience”. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found “undergraduate enrollment fell 4.4% in the fall. This includes an unprecedented 13% drop in first-year-enrollment.” Research suggests students are finding a gap year more appealing than ever. A gap year can be defined as a semester or full year break in one’s academic career, typically between high school and college. Many students are taking advantage of the global pause the pandemic has forced and are using their time to gain new, valuable experiences before heading off to college. On the other hand, admissions at elite colleges and universities are at an all-time high due to the de-emphasis on test scores. Test-optional admissions has provided ambitious students with a new sense of hope, sending admission rates soaring.

SAT/ACT Optional Admission Practices

Due to the pandemic, another common trend among colleges and universities is making SAT/ACT scores optional, but preferred. This is an attempt to make the application process more equitable. According to Dr. Aviva Legatt, over 900 colleges have de-emphasized test scores. However, data suggests that students who do submit test scores still have a higher chance of being accepted than those who do not. Critics of these new policies are calling it hypocritical as colleges are saying they value diversity and inclusion but are still giving advantage to students with access to the resources needed to do well on standardized tests.

With so many colleges participating in this new movement, including all of the Ivy League colleges, it is fair to assume that test-optional admissions will be here to stay. In an interview, Stacey Kostell, chief executive for the Coalition for College, stated, “Schools are doing significant work to engage broader populations in college recruitment and advising. While this work will take time, early indications suggest that colleges and universities are committed to designing new processes and relying on different metrics to make sure all students have the same access to higher education.”

While this policy is attempting to be more inclusive of students from diversified backgrounds, COVID-19 has made it more challenging for low-income students to pay for college in general. Since the pandemic hit, already-struggling families have lost income, worsening their financial situations. Students who were struggling prior to the pandemic could possibly be worse off now, making college seem like an impossible dream. In fact, the Common Application reported that applications from first-generation students and low-income students decreased about 10 percent from the previous year. Education experts hope that by taking away some of the inequities of college applications, like standardized assessments, the college admission process will be a more even playing field.

Early Admission is on the Rise

Due to the fact that SAT/ACT scores are no longer required at highly competitive colleges, there is a huge increase in the amount of early admission applications. According to Dr. Legatt, Harvard has seen an increase of 57% in early applicants since last year. MIT had an increase of 64%, and University of Pennsylvania’s early applicants increased by 23%. In previous years, early admission applications were believed to help students gain acceptance to selective institutions. Now, early admission rates are decreasing at elite colleges because of the staggering amount of students who are applying early. Additionally, the amount of students being put on waitlists has drastically increased. However, the number of students who are being accepted after being put on a waitlist has drastically decreased. COVID-19 has impacted admission trends in a meaningful way; it has simultaneously made colleges more and less attainable.

Graduate School Admissions

Graduate school applications are rapidly increasing. While some high school students are delaying furthering their academic career, those who graduated already are trying to prolong it. People are graduating at a time of historic unemployment. While COVID-19 proved that people could successfully work remotely, it also took millions of jobs. Graduating students are applying to postsecondary institutions not only to gain more knowledge, but to hide from the horrible job market. Data proves there is a 20% growth in MBA programs and a 30% increase in law school applications. Medical colleges report seeing an 18% increase in medical school applications compared to 2019. Research suggests when the economy is down, graduate school applications are up. Students are trying to find their way through extended academic opportunities with the hope that their job search will be easier when they come out.

What Does This Mean for Prospective Students?

COVID-19 took a lot away from people, but the importance of being educated is not an idea that is going away any time soon. As they say, knowledge is power. Preminente counselors can help students build their resumes and find the right college fit by guiding students through this exciting application process during this unprecedented time. Let Preminente help you navigate the complexities of today’s admissions world for your child today.



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