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Colleges Thinking Through COVID-19's Impact On Admissions

Photo of University of Utah entrance sign.
Lee Hale
"Everyone's having to be a little more nimble" about weighing future college applications, said Daniel Reed, vice president of academic affairs at the University of Utah.

With online classes now the norm for most of the country’s schools and universities, students are adapting to learn in new ways. At the same time, many of the traditional benchmarks required in college applications — standardized testing and extracurricular activities — have largely been postponed or canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

But for high school students with college on the horizon, just how disruptive it will all be to their academic prospects is an open question. 

“The saving grace is every student is in this situation,” said Daniel Reed, senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of Utah. “So for the students that are part of the U, every transcript that we issue from this day forward is going to have a notation on it that says some version of ‘remember the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020?’ You should take that into account. For students that we're recruiting for [the] future, the same thing.” 

For most universities it’s too early to tell how incoming students will be evaluated, but Reed said the University of Utah’s admissions process already tries to take students’ circumstances into account and will continue to do so. 

“A kid from a rural, disadvantaged environment with the same scores as a kid from an urban, wealthy environment has clearly in many ways outperformed the kid who is in better circumstances,” he said. “So you just look at those things and take them into account.”

Katie Jo North, executive director of new student enrollment at Utah State University, said the university is in talks with school districts now about how grades will be issued and figuring out how they should be considered in the admissions process. She said it will largely come down to seeing how students do overall. 

But she said admissions officers will also work with students on a case-by-case basis. And if questions do arise, there is an existing appeal process at the university which students will be able to use to explain how they are being impacted. 

“We're going to have a lot we need to figure out in the next little bit here,” she said. “But I think all of us are trying to do things that would not have this hurt the student. That's kind of our main goal.” 

Universities are facing uncertainties of their own too, with questions over how they can keep and attract students. Many campus tours and recruiting events have been canceled, replaced with virtual meetings and social media outreach, and admissions officers are largely working from home. 

While some schools have extended decision and scholarship windows to give students more time to plan, Reed said the University of Utah is also sending out swag bags with university-branded gifts to admitted students in an effort to keep them interested and looking ahead. 

At USU, North said they are focusing on summer and fall class registration, both of which will be up and running online this week. She said classes will remain online through the summer, but they are planning to be back in person by the fall. 

“One of our big things is don't panic yet, don't bail on planning for fall semester,” North said. “We're not panicking. We're not bailing.”

Jon Reed is a reporter for KUER. Follow him on Twitter @reedathonjon

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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