Student Support

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Just as life changed for everyone at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, expectations for incoming college students shifted, as well. As classroom instruction went fully virtual, testing centers for the SAT and ACT exams — traditional measures of college readiness — closed.

Many institutions — the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, included — waived the requirement of those exams for admissions, making test score submissions an optional part of the application process.

“We didn’t want that to be an additional barrier for students when wanting to go to college in the fall of a pandemic starting,” said Dara Newton, associate vice president for strategic enrollment at UTRGV.

As businesses — and testing centers — begin to open back up as restrictions ease and vaccines become more readily available, some students are opting to include SAT and ACT scores in their application packets. However, this facet of admissions is not required for the fall 2021 semester — or fall 2022.

“We wanted to continue that practice to support our students during a very unprecedented time for higher ed,” Newton said. Announcements for the fall 2023 semester may likely come sooner than later, she added, so that current high school sophomores and juniors can know where to focus their efforts.

While 46 percent of freshmen rank in the top 25 percent of their class and a majority begin their academic career at UTRGV with prior college hours, Newton pointed out that UTRGV admissions doesn’t utilize specific standards for factors like rankings and scores. Instead, the admissions team encourages students to share as much information about themselves as possible.

“We can render decisions with an SAT or an ACT score and we can render decisions without that,” she said. “As a holistic institution, that really allows us to continue to look at a bigger picture of the student. Test score does not necessarily define a student.”

Admissions staff often take note of extracurricular involvement, community service, job history, and class choices in addition to transcripts and test scores. They consider each student individually to determine who will be a good fit for UTRGV.

“Our goal is to set students up to be successful,” Newton said. “We don’t want to put somebody in a situation where they’re not successful in their first year of college and then maybe there’s a level of frustration and then they stop. So the goal is to help them be comfortable and successful in that first term, first year — even beyond that.”

One of the admission team’s biggest challenges at UTRGV during the onset of the pandemic was how they connected to prospective students.

“We were very used to having a model where we were able to be with students in the high school,” Newton said. “We were able to be present to add that additional support. Through the pandemic we’ve really had to restructure how we support students.”

However, COVID didn’t hurt the number of students wanting to study at UTRGV. The university recorded an all-time high enrollment during the fall 2020 semester. While the numbers aren’t in yet for fall 2021 — admissions were in the middle of the enrollment cycle at the time of publication — Newton expressed optimism for the incoming class.

“We feel confident in the direction we’re headed and that our classes are going to be solid and look good again in the fall,” she said.

UTRGV continues to be flexible in offering its support to all students.

“We have an excellent team and no matter the situation or the day somebody decides that they’re ready to go to college, we have dedicated individuals that would be here to support them,” Newton said. “UTRGV is here to support students and help them figure out the right path to their ultimate goals.”

Amy Casebier