How have university admissions changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic?

US universities have adapted to help international students with their applications, offering advice on social media livestreams, assisting with visa documents, accepting electronic school transcripts and more

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Stefan Hyman

Associate vice president for enrollment management at San Diego State University
February 26 2021
How university admissions have changed during the Covid-19 pandemic

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Many US universities, including San Diego State University (SDSU), have introduced a variety of new virtual programmes to help prospective international students get quick answers to their most pressing questions.

From daily virtual office hours to livestreams on Instagram and WeChat, admissions counsellors are using interactive technologies to deliver presentations and make connections with students across the globe. Students can access these through the universities’ official social media channels and also connect with admissions officers or fellow students and ask questions.

As a university, we have joined forces with partner universities in the US to host large-scale information sessions explaining how the admissions process is changing. These are a good resource for students who have questions around the admissions process.

Like many other universities in the US, we have begun to accept electronic documentation, understanding that many secondary schools and colleges have limited ability to send documents through the mail.

We allow students to upload unofficial transcripts for their initial application review, and we have started accepting online English proficiency exams, such as the Duolingo English Test (DET), as alternatives to exams that are required to be taken in an exam centre. Many of these exam centres have been shut during the pandemic. Our graduate division also waived GRE and GMAT requirements for master’s admissions.


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Clarifying the process of obtaining student visas has been a particular focus for many US universities. In summer 2020, US universities were granted the ability to deliver Form I-20s electronically; this documentation is needed for students to obtain student visas.

At San Diego State University, we developed a new email delivery system. We also hosted webinars for incoming students that explained the visa process and new guidelines for remaining compliant with it; these can be found on our website.

We assigned special academic advisers to assist students with course registration. They helped new international students who were studying in the US register for in-person courses, and they assisted those studying from abroad with choosing the right online classes.

The availability of multiple Covid-19 vaccines and the promise for future immunity are exciting developments. Now is a great time to consider studying abroad in the US, and prospective students should know that they have the full support of the college admissions community.

These are just some of the ways that we here at San Diego State University have adapted our admissions processes for international students. Each university will have adjusted its admissions process differently in the wake of the pandemic, so it is worth asking for specifics from any university that you are interested in applying to. 

Below is a brief checklist of questions to ask admissions officers to better understand how processes are changing at their institutions:

  • How must academic transcripts be sent? Are unofficial transcripts acceptable? Can college counsellors upload my transcripts through a portal?
  • Which standardised test scores are required, if any?
  • Do you require international students to demonstrate proof of English proficiency? If so, what forms of evidence do you accept?
  • What resources does your university offer to support international students?
  • Are you able to connect me to any current international students who can share their experiences?
  • When are international students required to arrive on campus? Are late arrivals acceptable due to travel restrictions, and if so, until what date?
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