Coronavirus pandemic may make it easier to get in to college, but not the Ivy League

Jessica Dickler Oct 18 2020

Students wearing masks outside of a school building

As if getting in to a top college wasn’t hard enough, Covid-19 adds a new challenge.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, many would-be freshmen have decided to postpone college rather than start their education online.

As a result, colleges and universities are well below their enrollment numbers for the 2020-2021 academic year, a report shows.

Overall, undergraduate enrollment fell 4% this year, according to data from National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, with incoming freshmen accounting for the biggest drop — sinking 16% from last fall.

With a number of undergraduates sitting this semester out, and many international students unable to enter the U.S., colleges and universities are even more concerned about hitting enrollment numbers going forward.

That could drive acceptance rates higher for the 2021-2022 academic year, according to Angel Perez, the CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

“Most have seen a loss of students,” Perez said. “What may happen next year is that institutions will be looking for more students to fill their classes. “But although admissions counselors have expressed concern about falling enrollment, that doesn’t mean college acceptance rates will rise across the board.

“At the very top tier you are not going to see a lot of movement, but those institutions, as well, are very concerned about enrollment,” Perez said.

Enrollment fell the most at community colleges, followed by public four-year schools, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center found. Only private, for-profit colleges notched an enrollment gain in 2020.

“The most selective universities [are] where you will see the least impact,” according to Hafeez Lakhani, president of New York-based Lakhani Coaching.

“The Harvards of the world are not going to have a lot of trouble filling their seats,” he said.

In fact, “selectivity for this year’s college applicants promises to be tighter than ever, partly due to the coronavirus,” he added.

After Harvard announced that all course instruction for the 2020-21 academic year would be delivered online, the university allowed 340 students, or about 20% of the incoming class, to defer from the class of 2024 to the class of 2025, according to an email sent by the school.

“Meaning 340 spots, of roughly 2,015 potential acceptance letters, are already taken,” Lakhani said.

“This is a trend at numerous selective universities, including at Princeton, who even paused its Single Choice Early Action Program this year, as it did not need to fill early spots due to deferrals from last year.”

“Our choice to pause on SCEA this year was an attempt to give students more time to prepare their applications given the many disruptions to their academic year,” said Michael Hotchkiss, deputy university spokesperson.

“It also allows counselors and teachers some additional time to submit required components, including transcripts and recommendation letters.”

At the University of Pennsylvania, about 50 students typically take a gap year. This year, however, the number of first-year students opting to defer jumped roughly 300%, according to Dean of Admissions Eric Furda — filling up 200 of the available spots for next year.

Applicants may have a slight edge by applying early where they can, according to Christopher Rim, the CEO and founder of Command Education, whether it’s early decision, which is binding, or early action, which is non-binding.

Because of the pandemic’s impact on enrollment and so much uncertainty about the year ahead, colleges are eager to secure spots — and tuition dollars — as soon possible, he said.

“Always applying to a competitive school early is going to be beneficial, this year it’s going to be very important.”

Early college admission applications are due on Nov. 1 at most colleges.

This article appeared on cnbc.com on Oct 18, 2020