How has COVID-19 Affected Applications to Independent Schools Report Highlights

December 17, 2020 Jinghua Liu

The COVID-19 outbreak resulted in uncertainty in the admissions and enrollment processes of independent schools. The Enrollment Management Association (EMA) analyzed the empirical application data submitted via the Standard Application Online (SAO) over the past five years and compared that historical trend to the 2020 data, focusing on March through August. 

The results showed that overall, more families applied to independent schools in 2020 than in 2019. Although there were fewer applications from March to May in 2020 as compared to 2019, applications increased from June to August. 

The application trend was then analyzed at a variety of subgroup levels as well, including: domestic vs. international applicants, applications to day schools vs. boarding schools, applications with financial aid requests vs. without, applications from public school students vs. independent school students, and applications from different ethnic groups. Below is a list of findings at the subgroup level from June to August 2020 compared to 2019:

  • Domestic applications increased, but international applications decreased.
  • Applications to day schools and boarding schools both increased. While there were more applications to boarding schools, the percent increase in day school applications from June through August was much larger than for boarding schools.
  • Applications with financial aid requests and those assuming full pay both increased. There were more full pay applications.
  • Applications from public school students and private school students both increased. There were more applicants from public schools, especially toward the end of summer.
  • At the ethnic group level, the Asian group did not exhibit large variations, whereas applications from white, multiracial, African American, and Latino/Mexican American groups all went up substantially.

Still, it might be premature to conclude that independent school enrollment will increase. Other factors, such as families’ ability to pay tuition given changes in their financial situations and the loss of international students, will have impacts on enrollment. We need to continue to monitor how things unfold in the new school year.

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About the Author

Jinghua Liu

Dr. Jinghua Liu is a seasoned expert in test scoring and fairness. She joined EMA in 2012 and leads the team responsible for ensuring that the SSAT continues to be a state-of-the art assessment grounded in research and fair practice. Jinghua has more than 15 years of psychometric experience, including managing large-scale testing programs for Educational Testing Service (ETS). She served as psychometric manager for the SAT and for the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC). Additionally, she was the SAT statistical coordinator for more than 10 years, during which time she led the 2005 redesign of the SAT. Her work on applied research has been published in more than 30 publications and presented at more than 60 conferences. She earned her PhD and M.Ed in educational psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia and holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Peking University in Beijing, China. She also holds an MBA from Rutgers University.

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