The college application process can be a nerve-wracking experience for some high school students. But the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent months-long school closure could make it even more stressful.
Admissions directors from schools in Oregon and across the country — big and small, public and private — are aware that high school students’ academic lives have been flipped upside down due to COVID-19.
They said their schools plan to be considerate toward students whose transcripts are negatively impacted during this unprecedented time. And many said their existing admissions process will judge students holistically, and not just by their grade point average.
“We’re all going to understand what’s going on during this time, and we’re going to be as flexible as possible,” said Brittany Preston, director of admissions and recruitment at Oregon State University-Cascades.
Oregon’s largest public universities — the University of Oregon and Oregon State University — are reassuring younger high school students that their ability to enroll won’t be affected by this quarantine period. And starting with the current class of high school juniors, no Oregon public university will require SAT or ACT scores on college applications.
The Oregon Department of Education announced Wednesday that all high school students would receive pass/fail grades this semester, rather than a traditional letter grade. Preston said OSU-Cascades won’t hold that against applicants.
“That’s hard for that high-achieving student that wants perfect straight As,” she said. “If it suddenly flips to ‘Ps’ instead, we’re not going to punish them for that at all.”
Jim Rawlins, the University of Oregon’s director of admissions, warned students and families that patience might be needed for the next few years. Making decisions about who gets accepted and who earns merit scholarships will take longer, as at least one semester of grades will look strange on nearly every high school student’s transcript, he said.
“Even if we can’t say yes to everybody … we understand the difference between what a student can and can’t control,” Rawlins said. “It’ll be a really interesting experiment and exercise in patience next year.”
The University of Washington will not require SAT and ACT scores for current high school juniors who apply, according to the university’s website. Washington will also not penalize students who have a pass/fail grade during the COVID-19 school shutdowns, rather than a traditional letter grade.
But not all students are interested in large, public universities — some are hoping to get into selective, small private schools. Admission officials at many of those institutions, both locally and across the U.S., had similar messages as large Pacific Northwest state schools.
The University of Southern California in Los Angeles had an acceptance rate of just 16% for the class of 2020, according to the university. In comparison, for the fall of 2018, the University of Oregon’s acceptance rate was 83% and OSU’s acceptance rate was 81%, according to U.S. News and World Report.
Still, USC’s admissions department will be “committed to flexibility” when it comes to students’ applications for the next few years, said Tim Brunold dean of admission. He added that they’ll consider students’ socioeconomic status when reading applications for quarantine-era students, just as they’ve done in the past.
“We’re already pretty confident in our ability to think about students in the context of how they’ve experienced their education,” Brunold told The Bulletin.
At private Reed College in Portland — which had an acceptance rate of 39.4% in the fall of 2019 — the admissions department is taking a similar approach in reviewing student transcripts holistically.
“We take every case as it is, with those students’ circumstances,” said Milyon Trulove, Reed College’s vice president and dean of admission and financial aid. “This is how you performed in the system you had, and that’s fine, that’s what we’re going to work with.”
Harvard University, near Boston, stated on its website that students in the class of 2021 won’t be penalized for receiving pass/fail markings instead of letter grades this spring.
Christoph Guttentag, director of admissions at Duke University in North Carolina, said his team would continue to emphasize letters of recommendation, personal essays and other things that make students unique, rather than only relying on grades and test scores. Duke’s acceptance rate in the fall of 2019 was 7.8%, according to the university.
“It’s completely understandable that students, parents would be concerned,” Guttentag said. “But at least for the selective and smaller colleges, I think they will find ... sympathetic admissions staff.”