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The COVID-19 silver lining: College applications are up due to optional test submissions.

With the majority of colleges and universities making college placement tests optional, more students are seeing college as a possibility.
Credit: relif - stock.adobe.com

The number of applications submitted to U.S. colleges and universities surged this year compared to last.  Because of the pandemic, many schools gave students more time to apply and even made it optional whether to submit the ACT and SAT.  But will that change who gets in? 

"The ACT was canceled 3x and I was relocated out of state 3 hours away from my house,” said Tessa Ransom, High School Senior from Iowa.

 That pushed the majority of colleges and universities to make standardized test submission optional this year and according to the most widely used college application website, Common App. What followed was 11% more college applications.

Avery Shvarts applied to 12 with no test scores.

 "I saw that I could apply to higher-level schools, like Cornell and they wouldn't penalize me at all," said Avery Shvarts, High School Senior from NJ.

 Common Apps' Jenny Rickard says the pandemic shined a light on admission practices that may have been excluding students.

 "So many of them have changed their evaluation process and I think as a result, they're going to learn a tremendous amount about other predictors of success,” said Jenny Rickard, Common App CEO.

Common App found large, selective universities like Cornell and NYU had 17% more applications compared to last year, many coming from minority students who are often underrepresented.

 Common App also found fewer applications came from first-generation college students this year, likely because of the pandemic.

 "Those kids who are filling out financial aid forms, that's down 9% which is a pretty substantial chunk,” said Casey Near, Collegewise.

 Yaire Martinez's family has struggled financially this past year, but having the first-generation college student apply was a priority.

 "My family has always pushed me to continue doing school // even if we're not financially okay, we will still help you out some way or another,” said Yaire Martinez, a first-generation college applicant.

 She applied to 4 colleges and so far, has been accepted to three. Some students are still choosing to turn in test scores because they feel it will give them an edge.  Many schools that went test-optional this year have indicated they will stay test-optional for a few years.