KSL Investigates: COVID-19 impact on college applications

May 18, 2020, 11:27 PM | Updated: Feb 7, 2023, 3:22 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Graduation will look very different for the 2020 graduating high school class. However, those students aren’t the only ones impacted by COVID-19.

Current high school juniors across the country are struggling to figure out how to navigate the changes brought on by a worldwide pandemic, as they apply to college.

Olympus High School student Reina Jones has had anything but a traditional junior year.

“It’s been hard to have the end of my year be so mixed up, especially because this is my academic year,” Reina said. “I’m really hoping that next fall school gets started again.”

The future college freshman – come Fall 2021 – realizes she has a lot to do before then. But, when it comes to college applications amid COVID, juniors like Reina are faced with serious questions and understandably, serious anxiety.

“It’s kind of challenging to know where colleges are at and what kind of credit they’re accepting because of AP classes and concurrent enrollment classes,” Reina added. “I was just hoping to get some extra credit for college so I could get some of my classes done.”

The 17-year-old plans to take two Advanced Placement exams. Reina’s scheduled to take the AP Psychology test Tuesday and the AP English Language test on Wednesday.

Despite how hard she’s worked to prepare for these exams throughout the school year, she and her mother, Julie Jones, fear she won’t be adequately prepared because of the changes made to the exam in response to COVID-19.

“My psychology test I’m taking has a multiple choice section and because it’s now open book, they’ve just taken that off, and now it’s more of a writing section. I’m not the biggest writer,” Reina explained. “Having just so much changed last minute, it’s kind of preparing me differently.”

Julie echoed her daughter’s concerns.

“You want to have a fair testing situation after you’ve paid for it and worked so many countless hours on all of that homework and now you don’t know if it’s going to be used for anything in your future,” she added.

Although some students nationwide have expressed frustration with the online AP exams, Trevor Packer, the senior vice president over AP and Instruction at The College Board said, “We’ve set up a process that is simple, secure and accessible.”

Packer continued, “We want to make sure that every student has the chance to earn the college credit they’ve been working so hard for all year long.”

Like a majority of her peers, Reina hasn’t been able to take the ACT yet. After having two of her scheduled ACT exams postponed in April, she is supposed to take it on June 13.

“It’s concerning because many schools do put a lot of emphasis on the ACT score,” Julie said.

Reina’s mother wonders whether the June testing date will be postponed, too.

“I won’t have as much opportunity as other grades to take this test. So, kind of by default, I won’t have maybe as high of scores because I won’t know if that’s the best score I could possibly get,” Reina said.

Reina also plans on taking the SAT sometime soon, although she’s not been registered yet. In March, The College Board canceled the May 2020 SAT exam in response to the coronavirus.

ACT Exam: Utah’s Current Untested Population

There are still 17,313 students left to test for the ACT in Utah, according to testing officials. In fact, 282,000 students in seven states across the country were not able to test at all. Those states include Arizona, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wyoming.

Vice President of State Partnerships at ACT, Catherine Hofmann, says they are planning for every possibility to continue offering tests.

“We’re planning if schools do go back, if schools go back part-time, if schools don’t go back. We hope to have solutions that would meet our state’s and our students, no matter the journey that they’re on,” Hofmann said, adding that everything is on the table.

In fact, ACT is even preparing to rollout a secure remote-proctored version of the exam, hopefully sooner, rather than later.

“Not knowing where the nation may go over the next few months, or even if things level out to a ‘new normal,’ it seems to be something that our higher ed is very interested in,” Hofmann added.

Although students and parents alike may be understandably concerned about the inability to take the ACT exam, most Utah universities the KSL Investigators spoke with told us they will continue a “holistic review of applicants” for admission, rather than basing consideration off of test scores or GPA, alone.

“[College admission test scores] were still definitely something we always looked at and we’ll continue to look at as we receive them. But, it’s not the controlling thing,” Steve Robinson, the senior associate vice president for enrollment management at the University of Utah said.

The University of Utah told KSL Investigator Brittany Glas that the school is watching the ACT testing availability closely.

After all, November 1 is the deadline to apply for scholarships at the U, and February 15, 2021 is the deadline for standard admission.

“Obviously, if you can’t take the SAT or the ACT until very late fall or early fall even, then you’re going to run into a problem there,” Robinson said. “Changing our deadlines is very well a possibility, but we just don’t know yet.”

17,000 Utah students have yet to take the ACT test

Surveying Colleges & Universities Across Utah

The KSL Investigators attempted to survey every college and university in Utah to determine how each school is responding to the COVID college question. Most of the universities assured us that the Coronavirus will not impact any student’s chances of being accepted.

For example, we learned that Dixie State University extended its scholarship deadline to June 1.

For now, BYU will allow prospective students to submit their application by the school’s published deadlines without an ACT or SAT score. However, to be considered for admission, students must submit a score by January 8, 2021. The final application deadline is December 15, 2020.

The reliance on these tests is changing, as well.

Westminster College is moving to “test-optional” beginning Fall 2021. Meaning, the private school will no longer require the ACT or SAT for admittance.

“Our institutions are going to work with [students] and make sure they haven’t been negatively impacted,” said Dave Woolstenhulme, the interim commissioner for the Utah System of Higher Education, or USHE.

Circumstances may be even more unique for open enrollment colleges in Utah. These colleges and universities accept anyone who applies, with or without an ACT or SAT score.

Some assume that depending on whether online college instruction continues into the Fall 2020 and 2021 semesters, that enrollment may actually increase at open enrollment schools because students won’t want to pay as much for four-year university schooling without the in-person benefits.

Open enrollment universities in Utah include:

  • Dixie State University (St. George)
  • Utah Valley University (Orem)
  • Weber State University (Ogden)
  • Salt Lake Community College (Multiple Campuses)

Additionally, more students may recognize these schools may be even more appealing in completing their general education requirements – especially for financial reasons amid the pandemic.

Concerns About College Student Enrollment

USHE is also working to determine just how much college enrollment could decline due to the impacts of COVID-19 across Utah and nationwide.

“We’re planning for the worst and definitely hoping for the best,” Woolstenhulme said.

That seems to be the consensus for all public universities in Utah.

“We don’t know what student behavior is going to be like this fall, or in future terms because it’s still unclear what the full impact of the pandemic is going to be,” added Robinson.

Although it’s never crossed her mind to delay college before, Reina says COVID-19 is making her think about it.

“Working for a year before going to school kind of sounds… it sounds nicer now,” she said.

Her mother understands her perspective.

“You want to make your university time really special and fun, and your first year there to be exciting,” Julie added.

The University of Utah’s advice for prospective students debating the same thing? Don’t get discouraged.

“COVID’s temporary. The benefits of a college degree are permanent,” Robinson said.

Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at investigates@ksl.com or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.

Related Stories:

Coronavirus Resources

How Do I Prevent It?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

How To Get Help

If you’re worried you may have COVID-19, you can contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 to speak to trained healthcare professionals. You can also use telehealth services through your healthcare providers.

Additional Resources

If you see evidence of PRICE GOUGING, the Utah Attorney General’s Office wants you to report it. Common items in question include toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, certain household cleaners, and even cold medicine and baby formula. Authorities are asking anyone who sees price gouging to report it to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or 800-721-7233. The division can also be reached by email at consumerprotection@utah.gov.

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KSL Investigates: COVID-19 impact on college applications