The University Network

How COVID-19 Is Impacting College Admissions — Interview With Brian Taylor, Managing Director Of Ivy Coach

TUN sits down with Brian Taylor, the managing director of Ivy Coach, to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on college admissions and how students can better position themselves to be admitted into selective institutions. 

TUN: Brian, thanks so much for joining us. 

TAYLOR: Thanks for having me. 

How has COVID-19 impacted college admissions? In which ways will this year’s admissions process be different than it was in the past?

Overall, I anticipate that this year will be the toughest year in highly selective college admissions in recent memory. 

This past year was, I would say, the easiest year in college admissions. That’s because so many kids who were waitlisted ended up getting in. When all those kids took a gap year, or when these schools anticipated that all these kids would take a gap year, they filled those slots with waitlisted students. So, those kids from the class of 2024 who took a gap year this past year, well they’re now going to take away slots from the class of 2025. So, there are going to be fewer available slots. 

At Harvard and Yale, only 80 percent of admits are coming this year. Well, that means 20 percent of kids didn’t come. It’s not like they’re gonna say goodbye Harvard, let’s go to Nassau Community College. They’re going to come to Harvard, they’re just going to come next year. So, that eats away slots for this next group of applicants. 

With colleges going ACT- and SAT-optional, would you advise students to still take those tests?

Of course. Don’t believe colleges when they tell you that they’re not valuing test scores. 

Yes, the vast majority of America’s highly selective colleges are test-optional this year. But, even if you read some of their PR announcements in which they announced they’re going test-optional — if you take Columbia’s as an example — they still say they value test scores, that test scores can offer insight into an applicant. And, Columbia was being forthright when they said that. 

Other schools, they haven’t said they’re not considering test scores. They said they’re optional. So, that means that kids who submit grades and test scores — if all else is equal — are always going to have a leg up over kids who don’t submit test scores. So, of course, you should submit an essay to your ACT. Of course, you should submit SAT subject tests. 

Even in years past when SAT subject tests were optional, we always encouraged students to submit three subject tests. If they require two, we say submit three. 

How do you suppose that this pandemic will impact students’ individual application decisions? I’ve read reports suggesting that a lot are considering taking a gap year. Can you speak to that? 

This past year, a lot of colleges were very worried about the percentage of kids who would take a gap year. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of kids did take a gap year — 20 percent at Harvard and 20 percent at Yale, that’s a lot. But, I don’t think it was as much as people anticipated. I think they were anticipating numbers as high as 50 percent. 

Recently, Harvard and MIT filed suit against the Trump Administration for trying to ban international kids from attending colleges that were completely virtual. They wanted them to do that in their home countries. 

The Trump Administration ceded that point, but there was an exception to that. First year international students still can’t come to U.S. schools. Their admission is deferred till next year. 

For the students watching out there, would you say it’s advisable to take a gap year or should that be something that students only do if they have to?

I would only do it if you have to. I mean, what else are you going to do this year? Are you going to travel around the world? You can’t do that. What are you gonna do other than take online classes? How many times can you watch the latest film that’s number one on Netflix? I mean they’re not even any good. 

Take courses. Do something that propels your education forward. I don’t advise taking a gap year unless you have no choice, unless you’re one of those international applicants who can’t come. 

Are there any silver linings? Will any part of the admissions process be easier for students because of the pandemic, or is it all just more difficult?

Well, one silver lining is that this year marks a very scary year for the College Board — the maker of the SAT, the SAT subject tests and the AP exams — and for ACT. 

These two companies have been competing for years for market share, and both have suffered a potentially fatal blow. Maybe not fatal, but a major blow this year. Any time a school goes test-optional, these companies worry, will the next domino fall? 

When the University of Chicago went test-optional, becoming one of the most highly selective schools to be test-optional among the national universities, they worried that other schools would follow. 

Well, this year, all of these schools are test-optional. And some of these schools, they are going to realize that you don’t necessarily need these SAT and ACT scores. These scores have historically discriminated against underrepresented minorities and against low-income students who can’t afford great test prep. 

So, yes, I anticipate that most schools will continue with the SAT or ACT, but there are going to be a bunch of schools that make it optional going forward. 

I believe that schools tell the truth. For instance, MIT didn’t allow students to submit subject test scores this year. MIT, in that instance, is telling the truth. They really are not valuing subject test scores, because they’re not allowing you to submit it. 

But, when a school is test-optional and they’re allowing you to submit it, they’re all not telling it like it is. Only when a school doesn’t allow the submission — Yale did it this year with subject test scores, MIT did it — then they’re telling the truth. 

A lot of students are starting their senior years. What should they be thinking about and doing right now to put themselves in a position to be admitted to their choice schools?

Sign up for those available SAT and ACT dates and those subject test dates. If it’s going to be canceled in your neck of the woods, hop in a car if you can and get your mask and take it in a place where they’re offering SAT or ACT tests. 

Otherwise, it’s the same as any other year. You should be figuring out what your singular hook is. Many students, when they apply to highly selective colleges, they present themselves as well-rounded, as good at lots of things like sports, music and community service. That’s not what highly selective schools, including the Ivy League schools, are looking for. 

Just because you can’t necessarily do things outside, there’s a whole lot you can do from inside. You can continue to showcase your singular hook through your activities. You can continue to take the most rigorous courses that your school offers, whether it’s in-person or remote or a hybrid model. There are not a whole lot of changes, other than that. 

Thanks again, Brian, for taking the time to speak with us today.

Thanks for having me. 

This interview has been edited for clarity. Watch the full video here.