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by Kaitlin McManus | April 10, 2020

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The coronavirus pandemic has thrown everything for a loop—and current college students may be worried about how all this will affect their future plans. If you planned to go to law school, business school, medical school, or pursue another professional degree this coming fall, what's going to happen? We asked Anna Ivey, the founder of Ivey Consulting, a consultancy focused on the admissions process. She chatted with Vault about some of our most pressing questions concerning the admissions cycle, including what to expect and how to adapt.

Vault: So first things first: Should we be worried about how the coronavirus pandemic will affect admissions into professional schools this coming fall? Admissions are supposed to be released right about now—should we be anticipating any last-minute surprises?

Anna Ivey: Believe it or not, I think admissions officers are even more worried than applicants! All but a handful have legitimate fears about enrollment this fall, especially if it turns out they are still teaching online at that point. They’ve also had to cancel in-person Admitted Students events, which is tough for them because they rely on those events to “close the deal” and secure those deposits and enrollments. I suspect there will be quite a few people who decide to defer by a year, or revisit applying to graduate school some other time. And they’re not wrong—graduate school isn’t going anywhere. But if you really want to be a lawyer or a doctor or an MBA and solve real problems with your professional degree, I would argue that there’s still real value in getting out there sooner rather than later.

Vault: Many current students’ endgame plans are being upended: Classes are being moved online, some schools are adapting a pass-fail model for the semester, and many summer internships have become remote programs or are even being cancelled. Do you predict these adaptations affecting admissions?

Anna: Admissions officers will have to adapt, and that’s OK. They’re not going to hold it against you that this semester and the coming summer are completely wonky. They’ll still have plenty of other semesters and summers to look at when evaluating your application. During the summer, just make sure you do something productive that you can do on the internet from home: Learn a language? Tutor kids who need help? Make music and share it? Volunteer to help small businesses trying to stay afloat? Keep your brain active and have something to show for it.

Vault: How do you foresee schools adapting their upcoming recruitment/admissions processes to our new reality?

Anna: Their recruiting travel is certainly suspended for some time, so that’s going to be tough for them. Usually they travel all around the country and even the world to meet applicants, typically at colleges or organized forums. And applicants won’t be able to visit their schools, tour the facilities, sit in on real-world classes, etc. Both sides will have to get to know each other online. But guess what—digital natives who grew up with social media are already pros at that. And admissions officers will be pros soon enough.

Vault: How can students hoping to apply to law school, business school, medical school, etc. stay nimble and competitive in the upcoming admissions season?

Anna: If you’re still getting grades, keep them up. If you’re in a pass/fail universe, don’t fail. 😃 Try to nurture your online rapport with your teachers this semester so that you can still get meaningful recommendations from them. Recommendations from this wonky semester will be especially helpful to admissions officers. Keep networking online. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. That might actually be the most important advice I can give anyone. Don’t get to a point where you’re spiraling and can’t dig yourself out anymore. Your teachers and classmates and fellow applicants want to help you.

Vault: Is COVID-19 introducing any other effects on or trends in the admissions process that perhaps those of us on the outside may not have thought about?

Anna: It’s certainly forcing a reassessment of standardized tests—whether they are still necessary, and how they can be delivered and administered at home effectively. There are security issues (scores aren’t reliable if there’s cheating), and there are access issues (there are currently problems in providing accommodations in an at-home, online environment). They’ll work that out over time, but in the short term, it’s a real issue. Even the New York bar exam has been canceled for this summer, which is a biggie.

Vault: And finally, I think students are pretty stressed out about the future at this time—I know the rest of us are! Could you send us off on a positive note: a word of advice, or a bright spot in all this mess?

Anna: Everyone is in the same boat. You, your classmates, other applicants, admissions officers, professors, counselors, support staff, everybody. We’re all trying to figure this out together. And we will. Be patient with each other, and kind. Graduate school isn’t going away, and schools absolutely still need people to fill those (virtual) seats. If you want to be a doctor, lawyer, or MBA, you’ll still be able to do that if you’re willing to adapt. The social component to higher education is important to a lot of people, but you’ll catch up in due time. Eventually you’ll all be sitting in a classroom together and hanging out together in real life, and imagine how much more special that will feel than it did before!

Anna Ivey is the former dean of admissions of the University of Chicago Law School and founder of Ivey Consulting, an admissions consulting firm. She is also the author of The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions. She practiced law in Los Angeles before beginning her admissions career.

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