Inequities Persist in College Applicants Despite Reducing SAT, ACT Requirements

By  - 

Recent data from the Common App shows overall college applicants have increased by 10 percent for 2021, with large, selective schools experiencing the highest increase in applications.

Yet low-income and first-generation students still decreased in application submissions even as more schools reduced access barriers such as standardized test requirements due to the coronavirus.

The Common App is a college admission application platform for undergraduate applicants that allows them to apply to more than 900 member colleges and universities across the United States, Canada, China, Japan, and other European countries. 

The platform released data last month that shows first-generation applicants declined by 3 percent and applicants that received a fee-waiver declined by 2 percent. The numbers are actually an increase from the 7 percent declines each group previously had in December 2020. 

Jenny Rickard, president and CEO of the Common App, said in a January 22 statement that she is “very concerned” about the decrease for the underrepresented groups and believes the data signals the need for additional support.

“As our country nears the one-year mark in its fight against COVID-19, support for applicants disproportionately impacted by the pandemic will be necessary to prevent another year of the large and inequitable enrollment declines,” Rickard stated.

Popular colleges and state flagship institutions like Harvard University and the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville have seen a spike in college applications after suspending SAT and ACT test requirements. This is the first year UVA is not requiring standardized test scores. As a result, the school set a record for itself with 48,000 applications, marking a 15 percent increase from the year prior.

Similarly, Harvard University’s applicant pool reached a record of 57,000, which is up 42 percent from the previous school year. The University of California, Berkeley, which completely eliminated the use of standardized tests in its admission process, saw a 28 percent increase with 112,000 applicants.

“The pandemic has given huge — and in some places, decisive — momentum to a movement to reduce or even eliminate the use of admissions testing at highly competitive colleges and universities,” The Washington Post reports. “That, in turn, has lured more applicants to the upper tier of the market.”

Doctoral universities, which accrued the largest number of applications, experienced a 14 percent increase compared to 2019-20. Applications to baccalaureate colleges also increased relative to the previous academic year.

While applicants from China declined by 18 percent, other countries exhibited noteworthy growth, including India (+28 percent); Canada (+22 percent); Pakistan (+37 percent); the United Kingdom (+23 percent); and Brazil (+41 percent).