Harvard evacuated, but Admissions Office still functioning
with most staff working from home
Along with most other schools and universities in the US and the UK, Harvard students have been sent home and will continue their studies online until the coronavirus threat has passed and it is deemed safe to return. But the Admissions Office is still functioning with most staff working from home. Admissions decisions for the Class of 2024 were released as normal on 27 March, although no information packs have been sent through the post. All the information admitted students need to reply, apply for housing, and find out about their financial aid decisions can be accessed online.
For students applying next year (for the Class of 2025), applications will be made online in the usual way, and Admissions Officers will make allowances for the large number of students who will be unable to sit their normal exams this summer. Further details of the assessment process are given further down the page.
But first, let us celebrate the 1,980 fantastic candidates from around the world who have been offered admission to the Class of 2024 (out of 40,248 applicants).
The Harvard Gazette reports that this year’s class hails from every US state and from 92 other countries, including an excellent group of candidates from the UK. Women account for 51.6% of the class, while 54.2% are from black, Asian, Latin, and other non-white groups.
Admitted candidates would normally be invited to attend the ‘Visitas’ weekend held each April, where they would have had the opportunity to meet their classmates and enjoy a variety of social and orientation activities as a precursor to joining the Harvard community the following August. For obvious reasons, Harvard has cancelled the on-site programming for this year’s event (originally scheduled for 18-20 April), but has replaced it with ‘Virtual Visitas,’ lasting for the whole of April, which will give class members a chance to connect with students, faculty and leadership online.
Harvard UK Outreach has received a number of enquiries from UK students and parents worried about how their applications to Harvard will be assessed if they are unable to sit their normal exams and SAT/ACT tests this summer. The rest of this newsletter will deal entirely with issues arising from the coronavirus pandemic, focusing particularly on how the disruption of exam schedules will affect university applications next year, and how Harvard College intends to assess its candidates during next year’s application round.
The main message we wish to get across is: don’t worry. A great many students around the world are having to take their classes online and will not be able to sit exams in the normal way while lockdown restrictions are in force. Universities are well aware of this as they have been affected in exactly the same way. They are already starting to publish guidelines about how they intend to assess university applicants in the coming year.
The advice below is aimed at the final four year groups of a UK secondary school who have applied, or will apply, to Harvard or other US colleges.
Information for students in the final year of secondary school who have received offers of admission from Harvard and/or other US colleges
This information is relevant to UK year groups equivalent to the Senior Year of a US High School:
Year 13 (England and Wales)
Year 14 (Northern Ireland)
Firstly, many congratulations on receiving an offer of admission from one or more US colleges. You have until 1 May to accept, decline or defer any offers you have received.
How do I respond to my offer? To reply to your offer of admission, to apply for housing, and to find out about your financial aid decision, go to the online portal you have been using throughout your application and respond online. This process is much the same as in previous years: the physical admissions pack we used to send through the post has become largely symbolic, and its absence will not inhibit your communications with the Admissions Office. You should not be significantly affected by the current lockdown provided that travel and social distancing restrictions are lifted by August, when you are due to start your degree course. If it looks as if travel restrictions will still be in force at that time, the Admissions Office will advise you about alternative arrangements for starting your courses online.
What if I can’t take my A Levels, IB or Advanced Higher exams this summer? Many thousands of students are in the same boat and provided you carry on working as best you can online during the lockdown, nobody will be disadvantaged if they can’t sit their exams and their schools have to assess their work by other means.
I have been placed on the waitlist for my first choice college but have also been given a firm offer from another college that is lower in my list of preferences. What should I do? You should accept the offer from the lower preference college before the 1 May deadline. Then, if you are subsequently offered a place at your first choice college you should accept it, and withdraw from the other college. It is perfectly acceptable to do this as your withdrawal from the other college will provide a vacancy for someone on their waitlist. But if you don’t get an offer from your first choice college, your place at the other college will be secure. Always keep your options open for as long as possible.
Information for students in the penultimate year of secondary school who will be applying to Harvard and/or other US colleges next year
This information is relevant to UK year groups equivalent to the Junior Year of a US High School:
Year 12 (England and Wales)
Year 13 (Northern Ireland)
Universities are making special arrangements to assess next year’s applications as exams and tests are being postponed or cancelled. The assessment process will not be significantly different in Harvard’s case, as the Admissions Office always carries out what it calls a ‘whole person review.’ It looks at everything about a candidate, not just grades and scores.
Where can I find information about the assessment process? Please read the Special Message for High School Juniors Applying to Harvard on the Harvard College website, which applies to the equivalent UK year groups named above. Here is a summary:
Standardised Tests. Standardised testing is only one of many factors considered in the admissions process. We recognise that many students may not be able to take the SAT or ACT more than once. This will not have any negative effect on your application. The SAT Subject Tests are already optional at Harvard and you will not be disadvantaged in any way if you are unable to take them.
Summer Exam Grades. You may not be able to receive actual exam grades this summer, and may have to rely on grades based on your coursework and online assignments. You will not be disadvantaged as a result.
Whole Person Review. Scores and grades are only one part of the process. Accomplishments in and out of the classroom, community involvement, and personal qualities are all taken into consideration. The process will not be significantly different to a normal year. Students who find themselves limited in the activities they can pursue due to the coronavirus outbreak will not be disadvantaged.
Financial Aid. Harvard’s generous financial aid program will not be affected in any way, as the $200 million undergraduate financial aid budget is ringfenced. Students from families with an income of less than £50,000 per year with average assets are still likely to receive a free Harvard education.
Other US colleges will have a similar message on their websites, so be sure to check out all the colleges on your shortlist. For example, click here to see Yale’s message to prospective students, their families, and educators.
Where can I find information about Harvard’s application requirements generally? You will find excellent information in this article.
Do you have any application tips? Yes. This article contains many useful tips about how to fill out the main application as well as the Harvard supplement.
Can I still practise for the SAT or ACT even though some of the spring test dates have been cancelled? Yes, you certainly can. Anticipated SAT and ACT test dates for the rest of 2020 are given below. The fact that some spring dates have already been cancelled could actually be an advantage to students applying next year, as you will not be expected to take the tests more than once and will have longer to practise for them and to research the US higher education system generally. All the free online test coaching platforms, such as the Khan Academy and the ACT Academy are functioning as normal. The best way to ensure a good score is to do lots of regular practice. So grasp the opportunity provided by extended home working. Design a comprehensive practice schedule for yourself and do loads of online research to find a group of universities both in the US and the UK which will be an excellent fit for your needs and interests.
Update on SAT test dates (as of 2 April – always check the College Board website for the latest information)
The 2 May SAT administration has been cancelled. Students already registered for May will receive refunds. Next scheduled administration: 6 June (SAT Subject Tests only). If this is also cancelled, anticipated test dates for later in the year are:
29 August 2020 (SAT and SAT Subject Tests)
3 October 2020 (SAT and SAT Subject Tests)
5 December 2020 (SAT and SAT Subject Tests)
Update on ACT test dates (as of 2 April – always check the ACT website for the latest information)
The 3 & 4 April international test dates have been cancelled and rescheduled for 12 & 13 June or 17 & 18 July. Students unable to reschedule may receive a refund. If the June and July administrations are also cancelled, the anticipated test dates for later in the year are:
11 & 12 September 2020
9 & 10 October 2020
11 & 12 December 2020
If the SAT or ACT decide to add additional test dates in late July/early August if the June dates are cancelled, the updated information will be posted in the May edition of this newsletter.
Information for secondary school students who are thinking of applying to Harvard and/or other US colleges in two years’ time.
This information is relevant to UK year groups equivalent to the Sophomore Year of a US High School:
Year 11 (England and Wales)
Year 12 (Northern Ireland)
What if I can’t take my GCSE, IB, or National exams this summer? Same answer as above: carry on working as best you can online during the lockdown. You will not be disadvantaged when you come to apply to university if you can’t sit your exams and your schools have to provide grades or scores based on your coursework.
What if I can’t continue with my usual extracurricular activities? It is recognised that most activities outside the classroom cannot take place during the coronavirus restrictions, so you will not be disadvantaged when you apply to university if you have had to temporarily curtail your usual activities. But there is nothing to stop you expanding your online learning, creating virtual study groups or new online pastimes until the restrictions are lifted.
Information for secondary school students who are thinking of applying to Harvard and/or other US colleges in three years’ time.
This information is relevant to UK year groups equivalent to the Freshman Year of a US High School:
Year 10 (England and Wales)
Year 11 (Northern Ireland)
Although your university applications are not due for another three years, it is not too early to start developing the high academic profile you will need to make a strong application when the time comes. Use the opportunity provided by the extended period you are working at home to develop your online learning techniques and continue to work hard at your online lessons so that you receive good marks for all your assignments. For help, see this article in The Guardian about how to study at home.
Statements by UK Qualification Authorities
UK qualification authorities have been working hard to decide how they will recognise learner achievement in as fair a way as possible for school students unable to take their exams this summer. On 3 April, Ofqual released details of the assessment scheme for England.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had not released full details at the time of writing (4 April), but preliminary information or FAQs from each Authority are given below. These will be updated in the May and June issues of the newsletter as further details become available.
How GCSEs, AS and A Levels will be awarded in summer 2020
Details were published on 3 April of how GCSEs, AS and A Levels will be awarded in England this summer, as well as further guidance for teachers, students, parents and carers. In a letter to GCSE, AS and A Level students, Ofqual sets out how grades will be calculated:
‘Your school or college will be asked to send exam boards two pieces of information for each of your subjects, based on what they know about your work and achievements:
- the grade they believe you were most likely to get if teaching, learning and exams had happened as planned
- within each subject, the order of students at your school or college, by performance, for each grade. This information will be used to standardise judgements – allowing fine tuning of the standard applied across schools and colleges
‘Your school or college will consider a range of things like your classwork and homework; your results in assignments and any mock exams; any non-exam assessment or coursework you might have done; and your general progress during your course.
‘This information will allow us, with exam boards, to standardise grades across schools and colleges, to make sure that, as far as possible, results are fair and that students are not advantaged or disadvantaged because their schools or colleges are more generous or harsh than others when making those judgements. That means the final grade you get could be different from the one your school or college sends to the exam board.’
Please click here to access all the documents that set out Ofqual’s assessment scheme.
Scotland: Scottish Qualifications Authority
Joint statement from SQA and Colleges Scotland – Update to colleges, 3 April
‘….college colleagues will be able to take a holistic approach, where necessary, in determining grades. This will enable colleges to use their professional judgement to assess other learner evidence, including knowledge of their learners’ progress and achievements to date. Today, SQA, in collaboration with Colleges Scotland and college colleagues, has provided guidance materials to all colleges in Scotland, which provides them with further information on this change in approach for this session.’
Click here to read the full statement.
Wales: Qualifications Wales
‘Grades for GCSE and A level qualifications in 2020 will be calculated using a range of evidence. In determining how we proceed, the focus will be on what is in the best interests of learners both in terms of their current well-being and their progress to work, education or training.’
Read all the FAQs here.
Northern Ireland: nidirect
Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for schools, colleges and universities
Read the nidirect statement here.
The statement does not say how students will be graded if they can’t take their normal exams, but Queen’s University, Belfast, has provided this information for offer-holders and applicants.