After a hectic college season filled with COVID-19 pandemic woes and concerns about student health, college applications have rebounded in 2021, according to a report by the Common Application.

Last year was filled with stories of how colleges and universities were not doing enough or doing too much to keep COVID-19 contained on their campuses. Multiple schools, large and small, reported outbreaks. Some schools went an alternative route, remaining remote.

Now, almost two years into the pandemic, it appears the number of those applying for college is increasing. The Common Application report, released last week, showed a 13% increase in distinct applicants through Nov. 16, 2021, when compared to 2019-2020 numbers. Application volume rose 22% from the same interval when compared to 2019-2020.

The data also showed an increase was seen among first-generation students at 22%.

Still, college is largely dominated by the affluent. Specifically, the top 20th percentile of the most affluent zip codes in the U.S. made up 60% of total college applicants.

Some opted out of college for the 2020-2021 season because of COVID-19-related health and financial concerns, but experts say this is not the only factor in the new increase of applicants.

Jenny Rickard, president and CEO of the Common Application, told CNBC that other factors include more colleges and universities implementing test-optional policies for the SAT and ACT exams. In addition, college costs increased at historic low rates this year, with many schools choosing to use the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund to provide more financial aid.

“It’s exciting to see changes in the college admissions process: from offering fee waivers to this test-optional movement,” Rickard told CNBC. “Some of these changes are sticking, and that gives us an opportunity to continue to interrogate our system, and our processes, to see what other barriers can we remove...”


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