How COVID Has Changed College Admissions

Madeleine Karydes
Madeleine Karydes

Madeleine attended UC Berkeley and double-majored in English and Media Studies. She is now an integral part of the Empowerly team.

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic completely changed the world; the college admissions process is no exception.

Let’s take a look at what has changed, and what it all means for your applications.


During the school closures in 2020, many schools switched to a pass/fail system rather than the usual letter grades for evaluation. This means that you may have fewer grade points that factor into your overall GPA or set you apart from other students. Not to mention, many students struggled with remote learning. Some have fallen behind due to stress or pressure, and have lower grades to show for it.

But here’s the bottom line: whether your grades are lower or higher than usual, colleges know that they need to view grades differently in the context of pandemic-related interruptions.


You know that participating in a variety of activities increases your chances of college admission. But due to quarantine, sports and other in-person extracurricular activities were cancelled for a long time. Some still are. Many internship opportunities weren’t available either. Colleges have had to find other ways to learn about a student’s potential.

As things reopen, you may be able to rejoin that team or club. There may even be a chance for you to participate in an extracurricular or internship remotely. Talk to your high school counselor for information about your interests.


During COVID, many standardized test administration dates were cancelled. This ultimately convinced colleges to eliminate or only optionally allow score submissions for college applicants. Many schools decided to be “test blind,” meaning you can send scores, but readers will not use that information in their decision. Others made tests an optional part of their application, so you can submit or abstain with no penalty to your application.

Some students are still taking these tests, while some are not. Because it’s different for each applicant, there is no standardized rule that students can use to decide. This adds to the challenge when making a decision.

Talk to your counselor about whether or not you should take a standardized test. If you expect a high score and are applying to a school where it’s optional, it could be a good choice. But if tests are not your strong suit, you might benefit from a test-blind application process and skip the stress entirely.

Essays and Interviews

What application piece didn’t change during COVID? The essays. In fact, many schools are simply placing more emphasis on the essay portion of the application now. Personal writing provides a great way to learn about your experiences and abilities in the absence of extracurriculars or test scores. So, make sure your essays are a strong representation of your skills.

Another way you can use your personal voice in the admissions process is to really connect during your interview. Some colleges are adding an interview to their application process to get to know you better. Learn as much as you can about your school’s interview process, and practice plenty in advance.

Acceptance Rates

While we can’t say exactly why, during COVID, college application rates shot up. This year, there are significantly more applicants to prestigious schools. This means that acceptance percentages are lower than usual. This doesn’t actually mean that schools are accepting fewer students, but it does mean the competition could be stiffer.

Consider the ways you can make your application stand out among the crowd. Play up your strengths, and be creative. Of course, proofread your work to avoid easy mistakes that might rule you out.

female student in a black protective face mask sitting on the bench learning outdoors on a sunny day.

What does this mean for me?

First of all, don’t worry if your application isn’t what you expected before COVID. Every student is going through this global pandemic together, and schools know that circumstances are much different than other years.

If you want to make sure you’re on the right track, admissions counseling might be a good fit for you. Empowerly counselors have COVID-specific and general college application resources to help you prepare your best application. Get started today.

Questions? Let us know!