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  • Debra M Shively

US University Admissions and COVID-19

Updated: Jun 26


Secondary school students across the globe have gone from attending school as they know it to distance learning during a very critical time in their studies. During this transition, student concerns include assessments, grading scales, and other longer-term academic implications. These academic concerns coupled with the suspension in sport, clubs and other leadership opportunities has left many students with extra time, which they’ve never previously experienced, but also with a sense of uncertainty.

If you are a year 12 (or 11) student looking to study in the US, I trust you will be questioning how COVID-19 will impact your US university admissions and your applications. The global pandemic will affect US university admissions, but to what extent we are still learning. Below are some ways in which we already know admissions will be impacted as well as some ideas to consider with your US university applications in mind.

SAT and ACT Tests - The SAT and ACT tests, which are usually an admission requirement, have postponed their testing dates globally. As a result, many US universities are considering testing limitations and amending admission requirements by moving to test-optional. Test-optional means a student is not required to submit a SAT or ACT test result as part of the admission requirements. It remains unclear if further emphasis will be placed on academic marks (see below) at a new test-optional institution. Given the holistic admission process when applying to US universities, a number of components are required as part of the application process. Universities that have recently announced their test-optional policy for first year students for the next 2-plus years include Boston University, all seven public universities in Oregon, the University of California’s nine campuses, Pomona College, and Amherst College with more universities announcing their test-optional policies each day. The above said, if you are able to sit the SAT or ACT test and believe your score reflects you academically, you should consider submitting the result to support your application. We will continue to update our Facebook page with these announcements, and maintain a list here.

Academic Marks – US universities assess applicants on their marks from all courses from year 9 to 12. That said, the year 12 leaving exams are not as important as they are here in Australia but rather a larger assessment of academics is considered. Our advice to students is to continue to do well academically regardless of how your state and school anticipates facilitating the year 12 leaving exams – your semester marks matter in the world of US university admissions. US universities understand this is a global pandemic and all students and schools will be affected. If your school moves away from its usual grading system to one which is less specific or detailed (pass/fail), do not be worried. Universities appreciate they will need to adapt to secondary school decisions and students will not be penalised.

Extra and Co-Curricular Activities - As part of the holistic admission process, US universities consider an applicant’s extra and co-curricular activities. Students should be maintaining their level of involvement while physically removed from their school campus. We appreciate this will require students to think outside the box and initiate creative alternatives to stay active and involved. However, this involvement is not limited to your school community. Consider how you may contribute in a meaningful way to your local community during this time. Additionally, reflect on what you are passionate about and design a way to demonstrate this in a meaningful way - this may include online courses in an area of interest or a self-taught activity.

The Common Application announced they will add an additional and optional question on the 2020-21 application which provide students a dedicated space to elaborate on the impact of the pandemic, both personally and academically.


The global pandemic means all students and applicants are in the same situation of uncertainty. We will continue to deliver US university admission updates for year 12 students as they become available. Feel free to contact us with any specific questions.


A list of sought-after test-optional universities include:

Brown University (for fall 2021)

Boston College (for the fall 2021)

Boston University (for fall 2021, then will review)

California State Universities (23 Campuses) (for fall 2021)

Cal Tech (for for 2021 and 2022)

Colgate University (for fall 2021)

Columbia College (for fall 2021)

Dartmouth College (for fall 2021)

Davidson College (3-year pilot)

Duke University (for fall 2021)

Georgetown University (for fall 2021)

Grinnell College (for fall 2021)

Harvard University (for fall 2021)

Harvey Mudd (for fall 2021 and 2022, then will review)

Johns Hopkins, (for fall 2021)

Loyola Marymount, California

Middlebury College (3 year pilot)

New York University (test flexible, ongoing)

Northeastern University (for fall 2021)

Northwestern University (for fall 2021)

Oberline College (for fall 2021)

Penn State (for fall 2021)

Pomona College (for fall 2021, then will review)

Portland State University

Princeton University (for fall 2021)

Rhodes College (3-year pilot)

Santa Clara University (for fall 2021, then will review)

Scripps College (for fall 2021)

Stanford University (for fall 2021)

Swarthmore College (2 year pilot)

Syracuse University (ongoing for international students)

Texas Christian University (for fall 2021, then will review)

Trinity University (Texas) (3-year pilot)

Tufts University (3-year pilot)

Tulane University (for fall 2021)

University of California System (for fall 2021, then will review)

University of Delaware

University of Oregon (all public campuses in state)

University of Pennsylvania (for fall 2021)

University of Southern California (for fall 2021)

University of Virginia (for fall 2021)

University of Washington (for fall 2021)

Vassar College (for fall 2021, then will review)

Villanova University (for fall 2021)

Williams College (for fall 2021, then will review)

Yale University (for fall 2021)


Note: year 12 students completing their secondary studies in 2020 will be applying for 2021 intake. Year 11 students completing their secondary studies in 2021 will be applying for 2022 intake.


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