Will It Be Harder to Get into the Ivy League This Year?

In a recent Fox Business report titled “Coronavirus is Changing the College Admissions Process, Especially for Elite Schools,”  Ann Schmidt suggested that college applicants’ chances at admission will be significantly handicapped this year due to coronavirus test cancellations, the use of pass/fail grades instead of letter grades, and cancelled extracurricular programs.

Has coronavirus made it harder to get into college? No and yes.

When her report was published, Schmidt’s report aroused significant anxiety in high school juniors who are already feeling stressed out by the hard work of maintaining grades and applying to college.

But I’m not convinced by Schmidt’s argument. Let’s look at her claims one by one.

First, Schmidt claims that cancelled SAT exams and ACT exams seriously obstruct applicants’ chances. But that doesn’t make sense. Students who had to postpone taking the SAT or ACT will be able to take the tests in the fall, most likely online. And after they take the tests, they will be able to submit their scores. So where’s the obstruction? (Juniors, please note: even if the colleges you will apply to waived the test score requirement for this year, do take the SAT or ACT and do submit your score. Even if not all applicants submit scores, the SAT and ACT scores will still serve as meaningful differentiators when applications are reviewed. See here for more information.

Second, Schmidt claims that pass/fail grades will not be factored into students’ GPAs. That may be true. But this is not within the student’s control, and most admissions officers will appreciate that fact and take that into account when assessing an applicant’s eligibility.

Third, Schmidt claims that cancelled extracurricular activities will hurt students’ chances. But again, as with the conversion to pass/fail grades, this phenomenon affected students all over the country so it’s hard to see how admissions officers can not take this into account when assessing applicants’ eligibility. Besides, just because school-organized extracurriculars have been cancelled doesn’t mean that students have to stop building their extracurricular profiles. In fact, in a recent post, I detailed how students can use the coronavirus pandemic to do just that. 

So I respectfully disagree with Ms. Schmidt.

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However, there is one coronavirus related change that will impact the chances of this year’s college applicants. Given the many uncertainties surrounding college openings this fall, we anticipate that some students, both American and international, who applied for admission for the fall of 2020 will defer their admission for a year. And that means that there will be fewer spots available for this year’s applicants.

And that’s a bummer.

What does this all add up to? If you are a high school junior and you have not yet started working on your college application, do so now. Why? The Common Application or Coalition Application essay is the one opportunity you have to show admissions officers how you are more than just a set of pretty numbers. Figuring out what you want to write and writing the essay requires a considerable amount of work and time. To craft an unforgettable essay, you are going to have to through many drafts. Please note that I use the adjective “unforgettable” purposefully. Most of the essays that admissions officer read are forgettable.

You don’t want yours to be one of those.

Need help getting started on your college application essay? Call me! I’m always ready to help you.

“Susan is amazing. Not only did she help me write great essays, but she helped me clarify my professional priorities and realize my goal in life. I really owe her.”

Pia, freshman at Indiana University’s Kelley Business School

Dr. Osborn works with students from all over the world via Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, phone, and Google docs to help them reach their independent, college, and graduate school goals. Through a personal, one-on-one approach, Dr. Osborn creates an individualized curriculum for each student based on the student’s strengths, passions, and college aspirations. Her holistic approach helps students perform well in school and win admission to the Ivy League and other competitive colleges.  

About The Author
Susan Osborn, Ph.D., has spent 30 years in higher education, in admissions at Vassar College, in the English department and Writing Program at Rutgers University, in the lab at The New Jersey Center for Research on Writing, and as a private tutor. Dr. Osborn is also an award-winning writer and scholar and she brings both her education smarts and her writing smarts to every student relationship.