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COVID-19

With tests optional, selective colleges report more applicants and longer waitlists

Amy Scott Apr 5, 2021
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Some tests were canceled due to safety concerns, and many testing sites closed. michaelquirk via Getty Images
COVID-19

With tests optional, selective colleges report more applicants and longer waitlists

Amy Scott Apr 5, 2021
Heard on:
Some tests were canceled due to safety concerns, and many testing sites closed. michaelquirk via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

College admissions decisions continue rolling out this week. Offers from the Ivy League go out Tuesday, with Stanford following close behind. That’s later than usual because of a surge in applications this year. Many colleges waived their standardized test requirements because of the pandemic, opening the gates for more students to apply.

In the past, Hamilton College required applicants to submit scores from tests like the ACT and SAT, but COVID-19 made that harder. Some tests were canceled due to safety concerns, and many testing sites closed.

“We just wanted to remove one level of anxiety in a year that was full of lots of other anxiety for students,” said Monica Inzer, vice president for enrollment management at the private liberal arts school in Clinton, New York.

Hamilton is one of more than 600 colleges to go test-optional during the pandemic, according to FairTest, a group that opposes reliance on standardized tests.

The shift created a little more anxiety for Inzer and her staff. Applications were up 26%, she said, and because students applied to more colleges, it’s harder to figure out which students will accept an offer. As a result, Hamilton also increased its waiting list this year.

“We do need a safety valve if we come up short on the class,” Inzer said. “There’s a little more volatility this year.”

Some less selective schools waitlisted more students, too. Dan Warner is vice provost for admissions at Lehigh University, in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. After Lehigh dropped its test requirement, he said, applications climbed 14%. The waitlist grew almost as much.

“Given some of the lingering trepidations that families might have about health conditions, about the economy,” he said, “it’s going to be less predictable than in the past — I mean, 17-year-olds are only so predictable to begin with.”

Even before the pandemic, many colleges and universities were moving away from standardized testing, which critics say does a better job of measuring privilege than ability and has disadvantaged students of color and low-income students.

“Test optional has really opened up possibilities for students,” said Jeff Selingo, author of the book “Who Gets in And Why: A Year Inside College Admissions.” ”Now what’s going to be interesting is whether that will actually equal bigger enrollments of low-income students, first-generation students, students of color.”

Dropping the test requirement diversified the applicant pool at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, said Rick Clark, director of undergraduate admission. The university also admitted more first-generation, Black and rural students this year, he said.

“If students who did not have tests go on to do well — as well, better than, or very close to the same as students who did have tests,” he said, “clearly, then, that should be the way it is moving forward.”

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What do I need to know about tax season this year?

Glad you asked! We have a whole separate FAQ section on that. Some quick hits: The deadline has been extended from April 15 to May 17 for individuals. Also, millions of people received unemployment benefits in 2020 — up to $10,200 of which will now be tax-free for those with an adjusted gross income of less than $150,000. And, for those who filed before the American Rescue Plan passed, simply put, you do not need to file an amended return at the moment. Find answers to the rest of your questions here.

How long will it be until the economy is back to normal?

It feels like things are getting better, more and more people getting vaccinated, more businesses opening, but we’re not entirely out of the woods. To illustrate: two recent pieces of news from the Centers for Disease Control. Item 1: The CDC is extending its tenant eviction moratorium to June 30. Item 2: The cruise industry didn’t get what it wanted — restrictions on sailing from U.S. ports will stay in place until November. Very different issues with different stakes, but both point to the fact that the CDC thinks we still have a ways to go before the pandemic is over, according to Dr. Philip Landrigan, who used to work at the CDC and now teaches at Boston College.

How are those COVID relief payments affecting consumers?

Payments started going out within days of President Joe Biden signing the American Rescue Plan, and that’s been a big shot in the arm for consumers, said John Leer at Morning Consult, which polls Americans every day. “Consumer confidence is really on a tear. They are growing more confident at a faster rate than they have following the prior two stimulus packages.” Leer said this time around the checks are bigger and they’re getting out faster. Now, rising confidence is likely to spark more consumer spending. But Lisa Rowan at Forbes Advisor said it’s not clear how much or how fast.

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