Jul 4, 2021

Most Important College Admission Preparation Checklist for 2022 and Beyond

The high school graduating class of 2021 is in the midst of applying to and receiving offers from colleges in this very unusual academic year. So, what’s been most important and different during this application preparation season and what does it mean for university admissions in 2022? Admissions leaders from Northwestern University, The University of Chicago, and Vanderbilt University recently led a webinar offered by Amerigo Education to review the applications checklist utilized by highly selective universities.

The main takeaway for current Grade 12 and Grade 11 students is that – while there are important modifications for this year in light of some of the disruptions of COVID -- the fundamentals, particularly for admission to highly selective universities, hold true. So, if you’re in the graduating class of 2022, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Grades, Grades, Grades

Now more than ever, your grades and the rigor of courses taken during high school matter significantly. Universities want to see students taking and performing well in a challenging lineup of courses. And, while it’s helpful to have some honors, dual enrollment or AP courses on your transcript, it’s critically important that you have strong grades in every course taken. It’s also important that you show an upward trajectory in recent years if you’re first year or two of high school were not as strong. With SAT and ACT being optional at many universities (more on that below), it’s logical to think that the importance of grades have increased during this period.

Most Important College Admission Preparation Checklist


During the 2020 calendar year, a significant number of standardized testing sessions were canceled due to the impact of COVID. Many universities were already ‘test optional’ or ‘test blind’, and many more joined the test optional ranks for the application cycle for 2021 graduates. Since testing continues to be disrupted and, given the successes universities have experienced in still recruiting outstanding applicants without standardized testing, we’re expecting that this option of test optional application will remain at many universities for the Class of 2022.

The Test Optional Movement was adding universities to its ranks before COVID, since standardized tests are thought to have bias that disadvantages students from traditionally underserved populations. An increasing number of universities are moving to test optional admission as a long-term strategy to increase diversity amongst their applicant pools.

If you’re a strong test taker, our advice would be to take a practice SAT or ACT and determine if a strong SAT or ACT score could be an asset to your application. If so, it doesn’t hurt to prep for and take one or multiple SAT and ACT tests and to submit the scores if they are strong. It’s likely that testing will less interrupted in the summer and fall of 2021. Additionally, you should consider the profile and requirements of the universities to which you are applying, as some may still require the SAT and ACT.

English Proficiency Tests for International Students -- TOEFL, IELTS and Duolingo

Most universities are still requiring some form of English language proficiency test from international students. TOEFL and IELTS now have versions of the test that can be taken at home, and many universities also now accept Duolingo. So, while the options have expanded for students, the larger challenge is that many students are temporarily not studying in a primarily English language environment in the U.S. or elsewhere where they would experience rapid growth. To ensure that students are continuing to improve their English proficiency (i.e., speaking, listening, reading and writing), Amerigo offers our students abroad live, online Academic Reading and Composition courses and has provided an adaptive learning solution (Voxy) to ensure students continue to develop their English proficiency.

One thing to keep in mind is that your TOEFL, IELTS and Duolingo score is a required threshold. While you need to achieve a certain minimum score for a university, there is limited benefit to continuing to test to achieve higher than required scores. In this way, the SAT and ACT are different from TOEFL, IELTS and Duolingo as there is added competitive benefit to higher SAT and ACT scores. 

Extracurricular Activities, Letters of Recommendation and Essays/Personal Statements

Highly selective universities utilize a holistic review process. They want students who are well rounded. Because of this, involvement in clubs, activities and volunteer organizations continues to be very important. During the ongoing COVID pandemic, the nature of this involvement might be different. For instance, many clubs and activities have been online for portions of the year, and sports may have been canceled, but involvement is still key to be a competitive applicant. In some ways, online and other modified formats may make it easier to participate in activities and social service opportunities since students are not necessarily restricted to their local geography.

Letters of recommendation and essays/personal statements are still important. For some students, it may be difficult to cultivate personal relationships with teachers, since many students are not seeing their teachers face-to-face as frequently. This should not be an excuse. It’s time to get creative and find ways to still interact with your teachers and club sponsors. 

Most Important College Admission Preparation Checklist

The Impact of Gap Year and Deferral Students

Many students are wondering what the impact on admission rates and freshman class sizes this coming fall might be given that many of last fall’s (2020) freshmen deferment. For instance, Harvard had 20% of its incoming class defer to the fall of 2021. While there is logically some impact of this one-time phenomenon, it’s likely to be very school-specific, so there isn’t really an implication for a student’s university target list or application strategy. Relatedly, US population demographics mean that there are fewer graduating high school seniors over the next several years. So, while the one-time deferral feature may have a negative impact on admittance rates, fewer HS graduates domestically over the next several years is a net positive for domestic and international applicants.

While 2020 continues to be a very tumultuous period, the fundamentals of being a strong university applicant are very similar to prior years. Get great grades, consider the importance of testing now, get involved in extracurricular activities, form relationships with your teachers, counselors, and mentors, and make sure you’re an applicant who stands out from the bunch!