Majority of colleges to stay test-optional: what this means for college-bound students

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Amanda Stevens

With many colleges currently test-optional, ACT or SAT scores are no longer necessary components of applications. However, this creates a challenge for some students who may be unsure of whether they should submit their scores.

Amanda Stevens, Staff Writer

As summer approaches and the incoming senior class begins thinking about college applications, a number of colleges have been making their own preparations for the next admissions cycle.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic made it especially difficult for students to take standardized college readiness tests like the ACT or SAT, many colleges adopted a test-optional policy for the 2020-21 admissions cycle. Many colleges have kept their policy for the most recent admissions cycle, effectively allowing the high school classes of 2021 and 2022 to choose not to submit a test score.

For the 2022-23 admissions cycle, however, a few colleges, such as MIT, have chosen to return to requiring applicants to provide an SAT or ACT score.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, colleges like California State University have dropped the SAT and ACT from the admissions process altogether due to equity concerns.

However, many other colleges fall into the middle as being test-optional, though it’s not yet clear how long they will keep those policies.

According to FairTest, which has compiled a record of test-optional colleges, a little over a thousand colleges did not require test scores prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, but in December 2021, more than 1,830 schools were test-optional for students applying for fall 2022. FairTest also reported that more than 1,600 schools have already extended their policies through fall 2023.

College and career counselor Jennifer Pollard said that colleges may be staying test optional in order to collect data on the performance of freshman college students who were admitted test-optional.

I think a lot of colleges are waiting to see the data, and I think that’s why some of them are going to test-optional because this [school year] was the [first test-optional] freshman class for college students…so they don’t have the data for how that class performed because they haven’t finished their first year of college,” Pollard said.

Although not having to submit a test score can take some pressure off of applicants, it does not necessarily make it easier to get into a college since the admissions officers will still be closely evaluating other factors in the application process.

According to Pollard, colleges have generally evaluated students based on their test scores, GPA, class rank and the strength of their high school schedule. A 2019 survey by the National Association for College Admission Counseling found that grades in all courses, curriculum strength and test scores were factors in admission that had considerable importance. 

However, GPA, strength of curriculum and class rank aren’t perfect for evaluating and comparing individual students due to discrepancies between high schools, so standardized tests allowed colleges to compare students on a more equal scale.

Colleges primarily use test scores as predictors of student success, although some studies have found that GPA is a stronger predictor of college success.

This may bring into question how much emphasis colleges, and by extension, students, should put on test scores. 

Junior Adam Fronduti said he recognizes that colleges need some type of measurement, but thinks the tests can be harmful to students’ learning.

“There’s so much anxiety about a single test score. Kids put a ton of work into getting a score, kids become good at taking these tests…” Fronduti said. “A lot of the tests don’t represent depth of learning at all.”

There’s so much anxiety about a single test score. Kids put a ton of work into getting a score, kids become good at taking these tests…A lot of the tests don’t represent depth of learning at all.”

— Adam Fronduti

While reflecting on her own SAT experience, junior Melanie Owen said she thinks using test scores in college admissions can be controversial.

“When I had the chance to study for SAT, it felt like I had to mainly study on how the SAT test is formatted and created more than studying the content on the test,” Owen said. 

With a majority of colleges being currently test-optional, a low test score is no longer a barrier to admission. However, students may be left questioning whether submitting a score would be more advantageous to their application or not.

Owen said that despite colleges being test-optional, she has already planned to submit her test scores.

“I’m planning on submitting my SAT scores when applying for college because I feel like submitting the SAT score can give colleges an understanding of how I perform on tests,” Owen said. “In addition, the SAT test is taken by students across the country, so I think the score of the SAT and the percentile I am in for each subject would reflect well on my academic abilities.”

Pollard said the decision to submit scores is individual to every student, but recommends students use SchoolLinks to get an idea of how their scores compare to Hayes alumni accepted into specific schools. 

“We have our historical data in School Links of students who were admitted from previous school years…it shows their GPA and their test scores…” Pollard said. “Take it with a grain of salt cause it’s all self-reported.”

Pollard also encouraged incoming seniors to take her Introduction to the College Admissions Process course. 

The course, which takes place in the first semester, will guide students through the application process. Students will also have time to work on their applications while also learning about financial aid, scholarships, letters of recommendation, campus safety and much more. 

Fronduti said that since he doesn’t know much about the college application process, he’s planning to take the class. He also admits that senior year comes with some nerves.

“I’m apprehensive about making decisions that could determine my life trajectory…” Fronduti said. “It still seems unreal that in the next year I’m making decisions that will impact the next ten years of my life or more.”

Although college may seem daunting to students, Pollard wants them to know they can come to her with any questions. 

“I just want to reiterate the importance of coming and talking to me…” Pollard said. “I really wish more seniors would take advantage of having those conversations with me.”