The University Network

College Admissions Deans Explain What They’re Looking For In Applicants

U.S. college applicants who are concerned about their applications being negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic may find comfort in the fact that the country’s college admissions deans sympathize with what they’re going through.

A newly released statement written by members of Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and co-signed by more than 300 college admissions deans across the United States underscores their intention to display empathy when reviewing applicants and offers insight into what admissions departments will value. 

“We hope this document will relieve some of the stress that students and families are experiencing,” the statement reads. “And we hope it will get us closer to a college admissions process that is saner and more equitable and that encourages young people to both care for themselves and to build a healthier, more humane, and just world.”

First and foremost, the deans encourage applicants to engage in self-care. 

“We recognize that many students, economically struggling and facing losses and hardships of countless kinds, are simply seeking to get by,” the statement reads. “We also recognize that this time is stressful and demanding for a wide range of students for many different reasons. We encourage all students to be gentle with themselves during this time.”

Secondly, the deans explain that they’re aware that applicants may have faced many barriers to their academic work. So, they fully intend to assess students’ academic achievements in the context of these barriers. Notably, academic achievements will be assessed mainly based on applicants’ performance before and after the pandemic, according to the statement. 

“No student will be disadvantaged because of a change in commitments or a change in plans because of this outbreak, their school’s decisions about transcripts, the absence of AP or IB tests, their lack of access to standardized tests … or their inability to visit campus,” the statement reads. “We will also view students in the context of the curriculum, academic resources,and supports available to them.”

Thirdly, the deans express that they value acts of service and contribution by those who are in a position to help others in their communities. 

“This pandemic has created a huge array of needs, whether for tutoring, contact tracing, support for senior citizens, or assistance with food delivery,” the statement reads. “We view responding to these needs as one valuable way that students can spend their time during this pandemic.” 

Additionally, the deans explain that admissions departments will continue to value forms of contribution that are unrelated to the pandemic, such as working to protect the environment, combat racial injustice and inequities, register voters or stop online harassment, among other things. 

And the statement makes it clear that admissions officers don’t want to see a “public service Olympics,” but instead authentic and meaningful contributions of service. 

Fourthly, the deans explain that they understand that some applicants may have seen their expected family contributions increase over the course of the pandemic. Some, for example, may now be supervising younger siblings, caring for sick relatives or working jobs to help provide for the family.

“We view substantial family contributions as very important, and we encourage students to report them in their applications,” the statement reads. “It will only positively impact the review of their application.”

Lastly, the deans convey that “no student will be disadvantaged for not engaging in extracurricular activities during this time.”

Therefore, applicants shouldn’t worry about losing their summer internships, jobs, camps, or other meaningful extracurricular activities or engagements canceled. 

The deans suggest that applicants should describe, in their applications, how they’ve been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. If a lack of internet access, not having a quiet place to study or any other barriers have impacted their academic performance, for example, they encourage students to write about those experiences. The Common Application and the Coalition for College application both currently offer sections for applicants to explain how they’ve been impacted by the pandemic.