Fall 2021: What to know now about college admissions

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Learn the latest on college admissions if you are applying to schools and planning to start college in fall 2021.

Our College & COVID-19 series is part of our commitment to students and families during this time of uncertainty. Our goal with this series is to provide the resources, information, and guidance you need to help you successfully continue your college journey.  


2020 reminded us that change can happen quickly. As we get closer to fall 2021, we know more change is coming — hopefully positive change. We have reason to be cautiously optimistic: A coronavirus vaccine will likely be distributed in stages throughout 2021, and there is much hope among university leaders, students, and families that college life may soon return to normal.

Though the number of students applying to college was down last year due to uncertainty from the pandemic or economic hardship, that number is expected to increase in 2021. What does that mean for students interested in starting college in fall 2021?

First, if you are still working on applications and are unsure of the due dates for fall 2021 enrollment, see the National Association for College Admissions Counseling website for a list of schools that are still currently accepting applications. And see below for information and resources to help you in 2021 and beyond.

Special circumstances and your application

In the 2020–2021 school year, high school juniors and seniors had to wrestle with the complexities of online learning or with COVID-19–safe procedures during in-person classes. In addition, the athletics and extracurricular activities that may play a role in the admissions process for some students also changed.

To address some of these issues, more than 300 college admissions deans signed onto a paper called “Care Counts in Crisis,” which expresses an understanding of the current stressors and explains resulting changes in their admissions priorities.

Simply put: The limitations you have faced due to the pandemic won’t necessarily hurt your chances for admission to college.

Standardized testing continues to change

Due to postponements and cancellations, many universities, including Harvard and Tulane, do not require standardized tests for admission for fall 2021. (Many major schools have stopped using the SAT in their admissions criteria altogether, including the University of California system, Pitzer, NYU, Hampshire College, and Cornell.)

To find out how standardized tests will be treated at your school of choice, check the admissions pages of their website or contact their admissions offices for more information. Visit the College Board’s website for general information about the SAT and the ACT website for information about that test.

The exams for all Advanced Placement (AP) courses are held each May. For spring 2020, these were held online. In 2021, according to a representative from the College Board, the tests will be held, vaccine pending, as they have usually been, in high schools around the country. For the latest information on AP tests, visit the College Board’s website.

Last fall, the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO) canceled its exams but offered certificates and diplomas for completed work. For the latest information, visit ibo.org. 

College campus virtual visits might be back

 In 2020, high school juniors and seniors were not able to take in-person campus tours. Instead, admissions offices put together video tours, virtual tours, and other digital alternatives.

Depending on the staged rollout of a coronavirus vaccine throughout the year, high school juniors may be able to tour campuses in-person by summer 2021. Even so, it’s possible that campuses will continue to limit in-person visits. The upside? College tours can be expensive and time-consuming, so taking the virtual research route may offer you and your family a way to save a bit of money and fit tours in to your schedule more easily.

Economic impact and financial aid

Even as vaccines bring hope for an end of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021, many of the economic affects may linger, causing some families to reconsider whether they can afford college.

If you are trying to figure out what kind of federal financial aid you might be eligible for now, the Department of Education’s FAFSA4caster is a great place to start. The College Board’s Tools and Calculators are also useful, as is this information on updating your FAFSA. In addition, the financial aid offices at the colleges or universities you are interested in attending are often a great source for information about costs and specific scholarships and aid that might be available to you.

Want to read more about transitioning to college?

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