Looking Ahead for the Class of 2021

College Applications and Acceptance Rates


Leah Locke

After many long months, Covid-19 is still a prominent obstacle in the lives of American high school students, especially 2021 seniors who are scrambling to finish college applications this season. Though the educational aspect of 2020 has been rather disappointing for the class of 2021, there may be a silver lining when it comes to applying for colleges, universities, and scholarships.

Taking a look at the current circumstances of the higher education system, a survey of enrollment officials from EAB found that 36% of campuses are experiencing a decline in admissions visit requests due to the pandemic. High school students are rejecting the idea of college more than ever before, and it does not help that nearly 70% of high school seniors say their financial ability to attend college has been impacted by the pandemic. Although this is a crisis for both colleges and students, it is important to note that many leniencies have appeared in the college payment process. For example, the following includes actions that have taken place on the federal level:

  • Payments are deferred and interest is waived until December 31, 2020.
  • Collection actions and penalties are suspended until December 31, 2020.
  • Companies can pay up to $5,250 of employee’s student loan payments on a tax-free basis through December 31, 2020.
  • Requirements that force students to repay loans if they withdraw from courses are waived during the COVID-19 emergency.

Actions that aid the financial struggles of students during this time are continuing to take place into 2021 as well. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) provided an estimated $2 trillion stimulus package to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The package includes $14.25 billion for emergency relief for Institutions of Higher Education to respond to the coronavirus. Fortunately, there are many opportunities now (and more in the near future) for students to take advantage of this financial forgiveness.

Now let’s take a look at how college admissions are affected. One of the most notable changes to college admissions is the increase in “test-optional” alternatives. Over half of American colleges and universities give applicants the option to submit their ACT or SAT scores due to the testing complications during Covid-19. This could be a huge benefit to all students, especially since studies have shown that timed standardized testing is not an accurate representation of academic ability. In addition, as stated by NCSL, the Missouri Department of Higher Education issued revised guidance regarding scholarship eligibility. This guidance includes temporary changes to allow students who may be unable to meet certain requirements such as tutoring/mentoring hours to still be scholarship eligible. The changes also modify GPA requirements since schools are moving to an online-only model. The West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission also provided new flexibilities for the renewal of state financial aid programs. These leniencies in scholarships and GPAs can help students during this year’s application process. 

As for acceptance rates of incoming college freshmen this year, things are looking very good for the class of 2021. Undergraduate enrollment is predicted to decrease by under 3% (reduced from the double-digit percentage estimates a few months ago). As college budgets have been hit hard during the pandemic, colleges and universities are more than likely to accept a higher number of this year’s high school seniors in order to gain tuition revenue. Therefore, even as the number of applicants is decreasing, the number of accepted students is increasing, meaning college acceptance rates as a whole will rise significantly this year.

In conclusion, even though the class of 2021 may have had an unfortunate senior year, they have been given many beneficial opportunities when it comes to college applications. As the government continues to aid students financially, as grades and test scores become less of a factor in college applications, and as colleges and universities accept more students to make up for the pandemic’s negative impact, this year’s high school seniors may not have it too bad after all!