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The Test Optional College Movement in the Time of COVID-19

Updated: Feb 18, 2022

Tomorrow morning, students across the United States will settle in for a multi-hour battle with the ACT exam. And later this month, on September 26, countless students will take the SAT.

What has colleges going test optional?

Every high schooler who intends on going to college knows about the entry tests of college. The ACT and SAT can be some of the biggest moments in a high schooler’s time at the school. However, with the onset of COVID-19 and its continuation into the fall, many universities are now making the tests optional for the application process.

With colleges going test optional, what does it mean for the future?

The standardized tests have already been criticized over recent years, with a study by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce suggesting that if many universities looked solely at the test results, 53% of the students who were accepted would not have gotten in. Other have observed that disparities in access to sat/act prep resources lead to inequitable outcomes for families and students with less wealth. With the onset of COVID-19 and the complete disruption of the testing schedule, colleges going test optional may address some of these inequities.

Managing the trend of colleges going test optional

Whether this trend will continue is unknown. It does not appear that COVID-19 will be under control anytime soon, so questions remain. What if two students’ records are otherwise equal, but one has test scores and one does not? What will the outcome be? For the moment, given the numerous variables at play, it seems that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The outcome would be decided on a case-by-case basis, with each university making their own decision.

Generally speaking, however, strong performance on standardized test serves as a prime indicator of a student's ability. As such, it typically behooves strong performers to submit their scores. Students who struggle with standardized tests or fail to perform well for other reasons may find more strategic advantage in not submitting their scores. However, they should compensate by highlighting additional parts of their record. After all, colleges going test optional will still evaluate other aspects of an applicant's record, so candidates electing to withhold their scores ought to emphasize other strengths.

What is the bottom line with colleges going test optional?

As to how much the test scores matter, it seems that they were even declining in importance before the pandemic. Now, it seems that a new age for college admissions might be on the horizon. Dartmouth University’s Dean of Admissions Lee Coffin wrote on his blog that “‘Optional’ is not a trick word. It is not a wink that signals a continued institutional preference for the upcoming admissions cycle.” With one of the nation's top institutions taking this approach, it would not be surprising to see many more mimic it. This might shift the focus away from preparing for a standardized test and more into their high school GPA and overall character built at school. Will it work? That is yet to be seen.

We can help you navigate the movement of colleges going test optional

Need more guidance as you face colleges going test optional? Wisdem is here to help. Contact us for expert college admissions counseling, application, review, essay coaching, as well as financial aid guidance, and more!

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