The impact of COVID-19 on international university admissions

By Ekta
Updated on: Jun 27, 2023
The impact of COVID-19 on international university admissions
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You had done the research and you were ready to begin the application process to your chosen universities abroad for Fall 2020. Everything changed in just one month and by March, universities had closed their campuses and moved to online learning. Prospective students were left floundering in full Shakespearean dilemma - to be or not to be. Today, you must be debating which way to go; apply for Aug/Sept 2020 or play it safe and wait for the next year but lose a term.

We have tried to answer your questions by putting together how each country is dealing with international students for the next admission intake. While universities are preparing for admissions to continue as usual, the situation is fluid and we will update this page with the latest information. 

United Kingdom

Universities are doing all they can to reduce the impact on graduate admissions while working alongside government advice. Amongst the numerous steps taken by them, these are most important for international students.

1. Expanding eligibility test formats 

Most countries abroad, just as in India, are under varying intensities of lockdown. IELTS is the most accepted English proficiency test but the closure of the global test centres has got universities in the UK to accept a broader range of English Language tests. The commonly accepted tests are Duolingo english test (with results within 2 days, TOEFL IBT (Home Edition) and IELTS Indicator.  

There is still no confirmation from the UK Government if these alternatives are acceptable for Visa procedures.  Watch this space for more updates.

2. Pre-sessional discounts 

Some universities are offering significant discounts to students seeking admissions in the upcoming sessions. The University of Liverpool is offering a 30% discount on the published Pre-sessional English fee for any student joining their 12, 10 or 6-week programme in Summer 2020. Also, when the student progresses to their intended academic programme in session 2020/21, they will provide a further 20% discount (meaning a total 50% compound discount) off the 12, 10 or 6-week programmes. 

Online application deadlines for pre-sessional courses have been extended to 1 week before the start of the programme. 

3. Virtual Open Days 

Almost all universities in the UK have planned for virtual open days. This works out perfectly for Indian students who can get a feel for the place. Universities have divided their open days by the subjects you want to study. These virtual events include online seminars, video tours of the department and campus as well as chats with peers and lecturers.

 You will need to visit the university website and register for the virtual open day.

4. Delayed Examinations

Delayed examinations and its effect on admissions Indian students who have not been able to complete their school-leaving exams can still apply for undergrad admissions for Fall 2020. The same holds good for students waiting to complete final papers in their undergrad study. The Indian education board has announced new exam dates to be held in June/July and grades will be known by July end or early August.

UK Universities will consider conditional offers based on predicted grades but every university approaches this situation differently. To know more, speak to our advisors.

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United States of America

To overcome the current situation, the U.S. government is closely working with the higher education sector to curb the impact of Covid-19 on international students. These are the following steps they are taking. 

1. Lowering language entry requirements 

Universities are lowering entry requirements to attract international students who meet other requirements. Cornell University is the first Ivy League university to become ACT or SAT exam test-optional. There is an ever-growing list of U.S. schools that are dropping the requirement for Fall 2020 admissions in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

This is a temporary measure and there will be support programs in place for students to receive help to meet standards, as needed.

2. Shorter preparation time 

Normally, students would be expected to have their i-20 in April and apply for their visa in May. Universities have had to extend their admission deadlines. With most countries having sealed their borders, Visa applications and flight resumption are still a grey area. If countries open their borders, be prepared to have everything crammed into July and August. Visa applications will probably require negative COVID-19 test results and a quarantine when you reach the destination country. 

3. Possibility of online classes 

International students are important for every country since they pay full tuition. Federal agencies in the US have kept this in mind and allowed universities to use remote learning in case on campus term start is delayed. This is a continuation of the ongoing flexibility guidelines that universities have in place to communicate with their students. These options include temporary movement of classes online, chat features, conference calls for group discussions and electronic submission of student work.

Many universities and colleges are considering a late start to the Fall term or even shortening it.


Canada has seen an almost 25% growth in student enrolment from India in 2019. The Corona pandemic however, has put a question mark against plans for students from the subcontinent. 

The one positive factor is that international students who have a confirmed admission can use the option to defer their start to the next term or even get a refund. Here are more ways universities are tackling this uncertain time. 

1. Application deadline extension 

Most universities in the region have extended the Fall 2020 admission deadline for international students to June 1st.  Application consideration will be extended as long as seats are available and study permit processing time allows.   

2. Online classes in the Fall 

"Our members are hearing, informally, that there is a recognition that the (Fall) term is going to start online. We will start remotely and by the end of the fall term we are hoping to transition to on campus," said Michael Conlon, executive director of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations.

Students who count being on campus and experiencing the reality of intellectual interaction and student social life will need to evaluate deferring to 2021. Universities themselves are worried about a shortfall in residence fees.

3. Proof of English proficiency 

Many universities have approved Duolingo as an acceptable English proficiency test for admission and ESL placement purposes. Duolingo is not yet acceptable for MBA, MEEM, Master of Nursing program admissions as of now. 

It is important to remember that at some point, hopefully soon, the pandemic will be over and normalcy will resume. What we do know is that universities that innovate now will offer students stronger technology solutions that will become part of their on-campus experience.

Related tags:
Impact of COVID-19 on International Studies
Impact of COVID-19 on International University Admissions
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