Over 300 admissions deans pledge not to disadvantage students impacted by the coronavirus

Dive Brief: 

  • More than 300 college admission leaders have signed onto a statement declaring that they are committed to equity and will not make decisions that disadvantage students who’ve been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • The statement was spearheaded by Making Caring Common, a youth advocacy initiative from Harvard University. The signatories come from a range of colleges, including large public universities such as Arizona State and highly selective, private colleges like Kenyon College. 
  • The coronavirus pandemic is changing how colleges approach admissions, with many going test-optional or offering higher discounts to more price-sensitive students. 

Dive Insight: 

The pandemic, the authors write, “has generated all sorts of questions, anxieties and misconceptions about what college admissions offices expect and value during this time.” When reviewing applicants, they say they are most interested in self-care, academic work, service and contributions to others, family responsibilities, and extracurricular and summer activities. 

However, they add, students won’t be penalized if the coronavirus or other circumstances prevented them from participating in summer activities, volunteering in their community and doing their best academic work. 

“We encourage students to describe concretely how any of these circumstances have negatively affected their academic performance or ability to engage in activities that matter to them,” they wrote. 

Many colleges have been more flexible with their admissions this year. And the Common Application, which is accepted by roughly 900 schools, added a question this year that asks students about how the pandemic has affected their health, education and plans. 

Yet the pandemic is highlighting inequities in the college admissions process that existed long before it began. For instance, low-income students may have family obligations or jobs that prevent them from engaging in community service — an activity can give applicants a leg up at many top schools. 

The statement’s authors emphasize that they view “substantial family contributions” such as caring for younger siblings or sick relatives, as “very important,” and that they aren’t perceived as less important than “high-profile, brief forms of service.” Last year, the Common App told students they could list their family responsibilities in one of its sections. 

However, admissions officers at selective colleges may still highly value volunteer service and even use it to decide between applications, according to The Hechinger Report

Moreover, low-income students often can’t afford the extensive test preparation materials or don’t have time to sit for the SAT or ACT multiple times. And some studies suggest that grades are a better predictor of students’ academic performance in college than standardized test scores. 

More than 1,200 colleges aren’t requiring standardized test scores for students entering in the fall of 2021, according to FairTest. (That number includes schools that haven’t historically asked for the scores.) And earlier this month, the College Board asked college admissions officers not to penalize students who didn’t take the SAT or who submitted scores late because of the coronavirus. 

The University of California System voted in May to phase out its use of SAT and ACT scores in admissions decisions. Experts say the system’s prominence in higher education could encourage other colleges to move away from entrance exams. 

The move came on the heels of a lawsuit brought late last year by students and several nonprofits, who argued that the system’s use of standardized test scores discriminates against students based on income, race and disability.

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