How School Shutdowns are Affecting College and High School Admissions

by Tori Carr '20

COVID-19 has completely changed how the world works in the mere five months that it has existed on planet earth. Gyms, movie theaters, and schools have been closed as a result. In Virginia, the lockdown is expected to last until June 10, and all schools have been closed for the rest of the school year. Students across Virginia have been switching to online learning due to the necessity of keeping the school year moving. 

The Washington Post clearly outlines what issues could possibly arise from an inability to physically come to school. The Post offers the challenges of, “how to keep feeding families who rely on federally subsidized school meal programs, how to teach students who lack the resources or Internet access to learn at home, and how to reach children with disabilities, whose conditions may make it impossible for them to learn online.” 

This inability to learn is greatly affecting admissions to both college and private high school this year. St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School being shutdown has impacted how the admissions process for incoming students works. Mr. Kunz, the Director of Upper School Admission, explains that “We are very fortunate that our primary round of admission ended at the beginning of March just before we closed the campuses. Had we closed earlier, it would have impacted our ability to have prospective students visit our campus and get to know our students and teachers in person. Since the closure of campus, we have moved our student interviews to a video conference and we will be hosting webinars in the near future for our newly enrolled families.”

Mr. McLeod, the Admission Operations Manager and Administrative Assistant to the Upper School, explains that “the application process requires transcripts, which are challenging, but not impossible to obtain. The challenging part is that students can't take the admission test since many of the sites are closed. Also, obtaining teacher recommendations can be challenging since the teachers are not in school.” 

Mr. Kunz echoes Mr. McLeod’s sentiments by expressing how cancelled admission tests have made the second round of admissions difficult. He explains, “Because of COVID-19, all opportunities to complete admission testing (SSAT) have been cancelled. Schools are thus having to try to find alternative testing to consider when reviewing a prospective students file.”


The economic crisis has rendered millions of Americans unemployed. Rep. Don Beyer from Virginia said to Politico, “This is a catastrophe...Nearly 17 million Americans have lost their jobs and they likely won’t find another one until the contagion is under control — and that may be a long way off.” The rising unemployment rate may make it very difficult for students and parents of students to pay for their high school and college tuitions, possibly lowering the option of expensive private schools.

Dr. Carter, Director of College Counseling, explains “many families will be suddenly faced with a new financial reality with loss of work and students may need to adjust their college choices to lower priced public options or even put off entering college for now. Certainly colleges will be feeling the effect of the drop in the stock market as endowment funds lose money and more families apply for financial aid.” 

Additionally, colleges may be financially impacted by the possible lack of international students able to enroll in American universities. Forbes comments that, “For the large number of universities who depend on their high number of international students to pay full tuition, this could have serious economic ramifications in the coming semesters.” Many international standardized tests are cancelled. Forbes continues, “China’s National Education Examinations Authority canceled English tests for the IELTS, TOEFL, GRE and GMAT, all of which are necessary for graduate school applications.” Since one third of international students studying in the U.S. are from China, these cancelations may be disastrous. 

On the other hand, Mr. Kunz thinks that St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School’s commitment to staying prepared for a crisis such as a pandemic may be drawing more applicants. He stated that he thinks interest in private schools, including SSSAS will continue, “I think some private schools (like SSSAS) have done a remarkable job of pivoting quickly to a Distance Learning Program. It shows a level of adaptability that public schools struggle with due to district wide restraints. I think savvy parents will recognize this adaptability which may lead to greater interest in schools that showcase flexible and innovative mindsets.”

Mr. McLeod expresses a similar sentiment, “many families may look to private schools because (speaking for SSSAS) we have the capacity, leadership, and excellent faculty to move forward in this situation. It is my understanding that not all schools are equipped to do what we are doing.” 

Mr. Kunz comments on how the economic crisis and high rates of unemployment will affect families enrolling at SSSAS. He says, “What we have seen so far is that families are definitely feeling concerned about their ability to pay. We have had more families ask us for information about tuition insurance so they feel protected in the case they have to withdraw before our June 1st deadline. So far, the crisis has not impacted interest or enrollment (in fact we set a record for enrollment this year!), but it certainly could have an impact on anyone looking during our 2nd round of admission or, potentially, during next year's admission cycle.”

Pertaining to universities, Dr. Carter also said, “I suspect that private institutions, whose tuition costs are much higher will be feeling the effect of the economic situation more than public institutions.” 

For many students it may be difficult that they are unable to visit the school or university that they have been accepted into. Dr. Carter reflected, “fortunately, three quarters of the Saints Class of 2020 has already made their decision as to where to enroll in college next year, but for those still deciding, it presents a challenge, since students cannot visit college campuses one more time or attend admitted student programs to assist in making their decisions.”

Colleges and high schools have taken measures to make sure that students will be able to make the right decision even when campuses are closed and not open to visitors. Dr. Carter explained, “colleges and universities have all gone to great lengths to offer virtual tours for admitted students, Zoom meetings with current students, and podcasts about student life, but this is quite a different experience from actually visiting a campus.”

Mr. McLeod said, “We normally have a welcome reception and celebration for newly accepted parents and students. We moved to an online parent reception and student reception via zoom that we believe worked well.” He continues to reflect on the importance of meeting in person with prospective students. “So much of what we do is predicated on in-person interactions with prospective families. It's really difficult to make connections when you can't meet face to face.”

Global school shutdowns have greatly impacted how we interact with one another. However, this crisis may help us understand the importance of being together in person. Already, the SSSAS community, as well as universities, admissions teams, and counsellors are finding ways to still come together.