Adapt and Prosper: Addressing Key Fears about US University Admissions

For students considering an application to attend college or university in the USA, now would normally be the time when they planned visits to campuses, or started thinking about personal essays. Given the uncertainties of the Covid-19 pandemic and potential political change in the winter, we thought it was a great time to catch up with our amazing Careers & University Consultant, Oya Christie-Miller - a specialist in helping students apply to university across the Atlantic. She highlighted the key things to look out for in a rapidly changing environment.

Covid-19 has impacted every area of society. Education is no different (as we’ve explored in previous expert insights), the global higher education system is no different, and the US college admissions process is certainly no different.

In this Insight, our Careers and University Consultant Oya Christie-Miller addresses some of the key questions and fears that students and families might have. Oya’s specialty is in US and Canadian applications and she consistently helps her students get into some of the highest-ranking universities in North America. Oya and her team have worked with several top-tier American colleges and have helped their students gain spots at MIT, Harvard, and Yale, among others. As a Yale alumnus herself, Oya shares her insights on how to still submit a strong application in these uncertain times. The good news is that, whilst there is a lot of uncertainty, there might also be opportunity in the new flexibility some US colleges are taking towards admissions.

Exam results and SATs

There are two key concerns about exams: firstly, whether the cancelling of GCSE and A-Level exams (and the potential impact this may have on a student’s results) will affect an applicant’s chances, and, secondly, what impact it will have if a student can’t sit SATs due to recent cancellations.

On GCSE and A-Level results, Oya’s first bit of advice is not to panic; wait and see what the outcome is, and remember that many other international applicants will be in the same boat (so, too, will many American students, as this article explains). Secondly, you should also remember that there are lots of other aspects to a successful US college application. Strive to organise some virtual work experience or volunteering, take a summer course (for more on this see below), or practice writing to come up with ideas for your personal essay. If you are applying for a top institution, such as one in the Ivy League, and you have not received the results you need, you can always arrange a re-sit.

This leads us on to SATs/ACTs. The SAT and ACT exams in the spring and summer were cancelled, whilst the slots in August to December quickly filled up, so that now some UK students will not be able to take any SAT/ACT exams prior to their US college and university applications. The good news is that many top US institutions - such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton and other Ivy League universities - have gone SAT/ACT-optional, which should take some of the pressure off UK students who were hoping to use strong showings in these tests to make up for weaker predicted grades at A-Level (or equivalent).

Oya still cautions students against dropping the SAT/ACT altogether:

"Many university admissions committees, when prompted, confess that they always need a reliable metric for evaluating how 'college-ready' international students are, and there are currently no good alternatives to the SAT/ACT. For that reason, if students can manage, they should still sign up and get a high score, which will confer an advantage."

While there are other ways to strengthen your application, the SAT/ACT is still a valuable resource going forward. If you cannot manage to get a seat, you can work on bolstering other aspects of your application.

Deferrals and demand

Other potential applicants are worried that students due to start in universities in the autumn will have deferred their entry to 2021, so students applying to start then will face a tougher challenge. While this may be true, there is still time for students to strengthen their applications for a 2021 entry. Students can apply for the year they want to start and see what happens. Another option is taking a gap year, giving students time to consider their chances and build a strong resume. Oya’s expertise covers every part of the application process and she is more than equipped to help students in whichever situation they find themselves in.

How to jazz up applications from home

As mentioned above, there are a few aspects to US university applications that differ from the UK. We want to emphasise how volunteering can enhance your extracurriculars.

Last month, we took a look at how to still make the most of the summer, for older students missing out on work experience or internships. All the advice there is doubly relevant for applicants to US universities, where admissions officers want to get a sense of a student as an individual on top of their academic performance. In these circumstances, Oya recommends students to search for any opportunities to volunteer online. College Consensus - a company devoted to giving applicants information on US universities and their admissions - recommend this in particular as a way for you to demonstrate you have a social conscience and show that you’re willing to put yourself outside your comfort zone.

The known unknowns

There are other unknowns on top of those described above. If Trump is reelected in November, the US might be more hostile to international students. However, if other international students are put off, it might be easier to gain a place. We advise you to keep up to date, but don’t jump to conclusions, and keep your options open.

Overall, the flux of this current situation will reward the brave and the flexible. There are many ways students can be assured to stand out and achieved their desired results. Particularly now, Oya and our team are available to provide advice on how to create, support, and submit your applications.

If you have any further questions about applying to university in the US at the current time, or want to speak with Oya or anyone else from our team about any aspect of your child’s education, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today. Thanks for reading!