The year 2020 was an incredible and unprecedented time, especially in the realm of higher education. Covid-19 led to immense uncertainty and, with cancelled SAT and ACT exams, travel restrictions and more, students seeking to pursue university studies in the US had to adapt quickly to the many changes that transpired. Hale's admission experts weigh in on this extraordinary application cycle, and the lessons can be gleaned to help students in the upcoming year.
The SAT and ACT are more important than ever
For the 2020-2021 application cycle, many American and Canadian universities revised their requirements for the SAT and ACT making these exams optional for the upcoming admissions cycle. While these changes were deemed necessary in the wake of SAT and ACT exams being cancelled and testing centres shutting down, it is important to note that most universities - including high-flyers like Harvard and Stanford opted for a test-optional, not test-blind policy. This meant that universities would review test scores if submitted - and they would make a difference.
Though students were encouraged to take the exams and send their scores if possible, test-optional policies also led to explosion in the number of applications. Many students with weak test scores opted to apply to highly selective universities which, in normal circumstances, their SAT or ACT scores would have prevented them from applying to. This led to an overall application tsunami, with Harvard's early applications up by 57 per cent, Columbia University's rose by 49 per cent, and Yale University's increased 38 per cent.
With some universities planning to remain test-optional for the next few years, students planning to apply for 2022 admission should not take this as a sign that they do not need to study for and sit SAT or ACT exams. In fact, as the number of applications to top universities increases year on year, these exams are more important than ever.
Seek out opportunities to build your extracurricular profile
Covid-19 led to a cancellation of many students regular, planned extracurricular activities, while distance learning and lockdowns limited exposure to work experience and internships. Yet here in the UAE, students were at an advantage, with private schooling, technology, high internet speeds and laptops, much more readily available than in other countries and were encouraged to seek out opportunities to build their extracurricular profiles through digital means.
Hale students took their endeavours online, from accessing free online courses offered by Ivy League schools, shifting their volunteerism to the digital space in terms of tutoring and the dissemination of their mentoring programmes, to developing interests in learning new languages and instruments. Students who adapted quickly and effectively to the digital sphere were able to set their applications apart and demonstrate their flexibility and innovation.
Start preparing early
If one key lesson can be gained from Covid-19, it is to expect the unexpected. With regards to higher education, this means starting university preparation as early as possible. Students who had already taken their standardised exams in their sophomore year were far less anxious than those who had waited - or planned to wait - until the summer before application season to take their SAT or ACT. Furthermore, Hale students capitalised on their extra time and began working on the bulk of their applications in March. By beginning to write their major essays, such as the personal statement as well as finalising their college lists by summer, students were able to seize the opportunity to apply early, thus boosting their chances of acceptance.
This foresight enabled major success and despite the chaos of the 2020-2021 application cycle, Hale students have already been accepted to some of the top universities including Brown, Dartmouth, Stanford, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern and New York University.
Peter Davos is the Founder and CEO of Hale Education Group.
For more information, visit www.haleeducation.com
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