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U.S. Government Shutdown: Will this affect university admissions?

January 25, 2019 :: Alex Collazo

Cable news hysterics aside, government shutdowns are usually brief, quotidian frustrations that ruin a few vacations in national parks and give government employees some paid days off. 

However, as the longest government shutdown in U.S. history stretches near a month, some of our clients have understandably expressed concerns that this time might be different. Domestic clients worry that their financial aid may be jeopardized by a shuttered IRS; international clients fear delays in visa processing and screening. So, how will the shutdown affect university admissions?

The short answer: It won’t.

First, it’s important to understand that nothing has actually changed on the ground. The U.S. is rare amongst developed countries in having basically no national university system beyond a handful of military academies. Government schools are run at the state level, by state governments that are fully operational—no adcom members have gone unpaid in this shutdown! Admissions departments use the federal government mainly as a source of information about applicants’ financial aid and visa eligibility. Let’s address both of these:

Financial Aid

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) is the federal piece in the financial aid puzzle. The form itself is still available and not the problem—the feds’ come into play with the approximately one-third of students whose FASFA is deemed to require further auditing. In some of those cases, the necessary tax receipts can be imported through an automated system that is still operational. However, students who needed further documentation were having difficulty without the IRS… until the situation changed dramatically on January 9th.

On that day, the U.S. Department of Education announced to universities a policy change that amounts to: “just take the students’ word for it.” Instead of submitting an official IRS report, students can now submit signed tax returns or statements about their family’s financial status. The department says the revision had been planned since November, as a way of making the process easier for poorer students and those who are not receiving parental guidance. Regardless of the motivation, this change ensures the government shutdown will not affect this year’s financial applications.


It would be logical to assume that the student visa process would be impacted by the “shutdown” of the departments of Homeland Security and State, but “shutdown” in U.S. politics does not mean “closure.” These departments have received no budget allocation for “non-essential” functions, but they are still allowed to do anything that pays for itself. Amongst those things: the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

Because SEVP is funded by user fees, its operations have not been interrupted. The embassies and consulates, which handle some of the interviews and appointments on behalf of the SEVP, are also funded by user fees and as yet remain unaffected. In a very long shutdown, it’s possible that elements of the system could run out of money if their fees prove too low, but so far that has not happened. No one likes paying for paperwork, but this time at least applicants are getting something for their money!

The Big Picture

Shutdown dramatics should not affect the graduate or undergraduate admissions process in the U.S., and certainly should not play a role in applicants’ decision-making.  Taking a step back from today’s headlines, the long-term value of a U.S. education, and top schools internationally for that matter, has remained remarkably constant. The returns a degree generates over the course of a decades-long career depend much more on things like the network you built on campus and the state of the economy upon graduation.

Your goal should still be to go to the best school you can get in to, because in 30 years, Harvard, LBS, Stanford, Peking University, and all other giants will STILL likely have the same reputations they do today. Such is the nature of the beast.

The present sound and fury is a cable news entertainment—in the real world, the admissions season continues uninterrupted. So, on behalf of all excellent universities everywhere—–pay more attention to “what students and current graduates who are getting employed and achieving success have to say”, and WAY LESS to what news bulletins and pundits who have wildly different incentives to YOURS have to say.

This is our take, but we wanna hear from anyone who has had a different experience!

  • Is anyone having difficulty with their visa applications to the US or Europe?
  • Is anyone having trouble getting employed because of strange visa/immigration issues?
  • Has anyone heard any different takes on these matters?


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