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Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)
Priya Desai
4 Coronavirus

How Should COVID-19 Affect Your Early Application Strategy?

With the Early Action and Early Decision deadlines approaching, many students have probably already finalized their early application plans. However, this isn’t an easy decision to make, and these unprecedented times call for extra deliberation from college applicants and their families. 


In this post, we’ll go over the different scenarios where you may (or may not) want to apply early. 


Fewer Students Are Submitting Early Applications


So far in the admissions cycle, colleges are experiencing a 10-20% drop in the number of early applications as compared to 2019. This is according to a measurement of both submitted applications and incomplete ones that have an early admission plan marked. There is still time for these numbers to change by November 1st, but at the moment, most colleges are seeing fewer applications.


There are a couple overarching reasons for this trend. First, COVID-19 has generated a general uncertainty around finances, travel, and housing. Some families simply cannot commit to a school given the current pandemic. The other is standardized testing; because many students postponed their tests, they’re hoping to get a final SAT or ACT in before submitting their application. 


Let’s dive more into this latter phenomenon and discuss what it could mean for you as an applicant. 


The Test Score Variable


Regarding test scores within the current test-optional application cycle, there are four possible scenarios.


Scenario 1 – You have a test score within CollegeVine’s recommended range.


Many schools list the middle 50% SAT and ACT score ranges of accepted students on their website. In typical years, students should aim to be towards the upper end of that range. 


That said, the 2020-2021 applications cycle is far from a typical year, and our scoring recommendations have changed. Here at CollegeVine, we recommend submitting your SAT score if it’s within 60 points of the 25th percentile. If you took the ACT, submit if you’re within 3 points of the 25th percentile. 


The reasoning behind this is that scores are lower across the board. Additionally, since many students were unable to take tests more than once, if at all, superscores are much lower. For more information about this recommendation, check out our article: Should You Apply Test-Optional for the 2020-2021 Cycle?


What exactly does this mean for you? Here’s an example: the middle 50% of Yale’s recently admitted class had a composite ACT range of 33-35, meaning 33 was the 25th percentile score. If you scored a 30 or higher, you fit into CollegeVine’s recommended range. For the SAT, the middle 50% 1460-1590, so if your composite score is 1400 or higher, you also fit into the recommended range.


If you have a test score that is within this range for your school of choice, you should definitely apply early. Because the level of competition is 10-20% lower than in most previous years, your strong test score (at a test-optional school) is only going to help you stand out more in the applicant pool. 


Scenario 2 – You have a test score below the previously mentioned range.


This scenario is a bit more convoluted – your test score, which is right now outside of the range, might end up being in the range for the actual applicant pool. Due to the test-optional cycle, the college could receive fewer applications from students with test scores. To tell if this is the case, after early notifications come out, you can peruse accepted student threads with statistics on Reddit. If you see that students with your background and test score are getting accepted, then you can consider applying with your test. If you don’t see that evidence, you can always still apply test-optional.

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Scenario 3 – You don’t have a test score but are scheduled to take a test before January 1st (the Regular Decision deadline).


This scenario depends on your home state. As the pandemic has experienced a fall resurgence, more and more school districts are switching back from in-person and hybrid models to remote learning. This trend affects testing as well, and since the next SAT is on November 7th, that’s another two weeks of further case growth that may trigger even more cancellations.


If you’re in a state that is seeing a substantial uptick in cases, we recommend that you just apply early and test-optional. Since there are only two SATs (November 7th and December 5th), and one ACT (December 12th) left, the existing mass disruptions will likely only grow by then. 


Scenario 4 – You don’t have a test score and plan to apply test-optional. 


If this applies to you, you should definitely apply early – the smaller competitive pool means that your chances will only be elevated by applying early. 


For more information on the test-optional cycle, check out The Ultimate Guide to Test Optional Admissions, a livestream hosted by one of our co-founders, Vinay Bhaskara.


Financial Aid and Early Decision


Financial aid is the one external variable if you’re planning on applying Early Decision. Earlier in the pandemic, there was some fear that college financial aid budgets would be very strained due to the pandemic. And there is some truth to that at public colleges, because COVID-19 has impacted state government finances. 


But at most private colleges, the endowment is doing fine because the stock market is doing fine. That’s where a lot of the financial aid budget for private colleges comes from, so at private colleges you should still consider applying Early Decision. Also, universities are signaling that they’re going to be more flexible about financial issues and Early Decision this year, so it shouldn’t be as much of a barrier as we originally thought. 


To see how your stats stack up against other applicants, try CollegeVine’s free chancing engine, where you can get an even better idea of your chances at getting into your dream school! We’ll can let you know your chances with or without a test score, and we’ll let you know whether or not you should submit your score, depending on the school. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account to get started!

Short Bio
Priya has been working at CollegeVine for two years in various capacities, including mentoring students, editing hundreds of essays, and creating blog content. She has also interned in healthcare consulting. She is extremely grateful for all the help she received as an applicant and wants to pay it forward by demystifying the admissions process for others.