COVID-19 Causes Surge in College Applications and Admission Difficulty


Colin Martens, Staff Writer

It’s no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has had widespread and lasting impact, to say the least. One specific area has felt this change surprisingly hard – the college admissions process. Application numbers are surging, and some students feel uneasy as they navigate this unprecedented time.

The entrance of COVID in 2020 forced standardized tests to a halt. Due to this, colleges were forced to go test-optional, or risk disqualifying potential applicants that were unable to test. 

Within this year’s admission cycle, though, testing has been widely available for students. Still, there are more than 1800 test-optional or test-blind institutions for Fall 2022 admissions, even though students had the opportunity to test. 

By dropping the requirement of standardized testing, students with lower scores were given an opportunity to apply to more difficult schools without one number holding them down. 

Prestigious universities like M.I.T. and Columbia have seen extreme spikes in application numbers which increased by 66% and 51% respectively. Additionally, as of November 16, 2021, the volume of total applications submitted has increased by 22%, and that number will only increase as all applications are due in January.

Another victim of this application spike is Cornell University. This year, they received 17,000 more applications than ever, and they believe it is driven by the schools decision not to require standardized test scores.

“We saw people that thought ‘I would never get into Cornell’ thinking, ‘Oh, if they’re not looking at a test score, maybe I’ve actually got a chance,’” Jonathan Burdick, Cornell’s Vice Provost for Enrollment, said in an interview with The New York Times.

Lake Forest students felt the effect of this too.

“For me, test optional policies were helpful because it made me more hopeful and gave me more confidence when applying to harder schools,” senior Rose Nugent said.

These upward application trends are applicable to LFHS. Since the 2019 graduating class, overall applications have increased by an average of 215 applications per year, even though class sizes decrease slightly each year. Huge differences in application numbers can be seen just between the classes of 2019 and 2022, with 3643 applications and 4288 applications respectively.

It’s evident that the COVID-inspired test optional policies have changed the college admissions process, and LFHS is no exception. LFHS High School Counselor Megan Miles asserts that she hasn’t noticed a significant difference in application numbers, but has witnessed an increase in difficulty with the admissions to top universities.

“The last 5 years have been increasingly difficult because of the Common App; you can apply to so many schools so easily, and it floods schools with tons of applications,” Miles said. She does believe that test optional policies are “game changing” for students, and is excited to see how effective these practices are after the data rolls out within the following years. 

Another Lake Forest Counselor, Maureen Lamick, wants to leave students with a piece of advice, “Remember how personal the college admission journey is; focus on yourself and do what is best for you,” says Lamick.