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Summer College Prep: Evaluating Test-Optional Policies, Transcripts, and Extracurriculars

Summer College Prep: Evaluating Test-Optional Policies, Transcripts, and Extracurriculars

By Scott, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor

Summer can be a time for sleeping in, seeing friends and family, and almost forgetting you were a student for a bit. But it’s also an opportunity to work on projects you didn’t have time for during the school year. The real question is how to balance the summer with relaxing and being both personally and academically productive.

As generally in life, leisure can be that much sweeter when balanced with getting some priority tasks out of the way—or at least under control. Burnout is real, so it’s necessary to find times to unwind and engage with your hobbies and interests that you find energizing. But it’s also true that you’ll probably enjoy that time more when you can do so safe in the knowledge that you’ve also done what you’ve needed to for the day, week, or month. My suggestion is to make the most of your summer by prioritizing a few things, specifically standardized testing preparation and academic exploration.

Adapting to Recent Changes in Standardized Testing

Standardized testing has changed a lot in just the past year and will undoubtedly continue to change over the next few years. As students around the world weren’t able to sit for standardized exams in person due to COVID-19, many U.S. universities waived their requirement for SAT/ACT scores. Since then, the SAT Subject Tests have become a thing of the past, and more changes are on the way. What does all this uncertainty mean for you?

Firstly, it means you’ll need to do your research. Many schools are continuing their experiment in being test-optional, something that will have ripple effects in the coming years. As many universities discovered that standardized testing was a barrier to the more diverse applicant pool they’ve been longing for, it wouldn’t be surprising to see several decide not to require the tests at all going forward.

For several well-researched and documented reasons, standardized testing is a barrier to less affluent and international students. After a forced experiment in being test-optional and a further year to see how those students fare in their first year on campus, we may likely be seeing the beginning of the end of the SAT and ACT as a requirement for selective college admissions. But for now, do your research on universities you’re interested in and their standardized testing requirements to help you with your college prep plan. Deciding to test or not really depends on each student and their circumstances. Your IvyWise counselor can help you determine, based on your applicant profile and your balanced college list, if sitting for the SAT or ACT this year is the right move for you.

A Focus on the Academic Transcript

It’s also worth considering how your profile will look to an admissions reader without standardized testing. Some students with patchy transcripts hope that a stellar test score can bridge the gap. But if that’s not an option, what will that mean? For one, it underscores just how important your transcript really is. Many colleges have long considered the transcript to be the most crucial academic credential because it tells them how you perform over time, rather than in a single sitting. This is, even more, the case in an application without SAT/ACT scores.

No standardized testing also means that students will need to broaden their view of how their academic and extracurricular profiles will be considered. Academic rigor and the extent to which you’re challenging yourself in your context will be clues admissions readers will assess to see if you’re the type of student who can thrive in an academically challenging environment where the opportunities will be yours for the taking. They’ll be looking to see that you’ve chosen to take challenging classes and performed well in them and that you’ve searched your school’s curriculum and opportunities outside of school to find what you’re most interested in and likely to pursue in college.

Summer Planning and Extracurricular Activities

This brings us to the other theme for your summer: explore, explore, explore! Exploring your interests has multiple benefits. For one, it helps you determine your long-term academic and career goals so that you can apply to the colleges with the best options for you. It’s also a way to demonstrate your academic strengths in lieu of standardized testing. Maybe you’re planning to tell colleges you want to major in computer science. But what if you won’t have that strong SAT Math score to show how ready you are to do that? Taking a course at a local college or online or doing a coding camp can help demonstrate your talent while also helping you decide if the language you ultimately want to study in college is Python or French.

Colleges have so many opportunities for you to explore your interests and deepen your knowledge and skills for your career. They want students who will come and take advantage of those opportunities. But the only way they have of knowing how likely you are to do that when you get to campus is your past behavior. So, when you write in your essays that you eat, sleep, and breathe history, they’re looking to see that you’ll spend time on it outside of school when you could just as easily be working on your tan instead.

But that brings me to my last point that—while exploring topics and activities of interest should have an element of fun—you also need downtime. My experience is that I enjoy that downtime more and find genuine relaxation when I’ve gotten my must-do tasks out of the way. So, put in the hours studying for your final exams, and then go in there and ace the tests. But also find time to read just for pleasure, hang out with your friends, and make other memories that will recharge you for the next academic year.

Approaching the college admissions process this fall and beyond can be confusing, especially as so many considerations are still changing because of rising application numbers and test-optional policies. Our team of expert counselors at IvyWise can help you put together a customized and comprehensive college application strategy that takes into account your profile, goals, testing needs, and more. We can work with you to identify the best-fit schools to apply to and how to maximize your chances of admission. Contact us today for more information on our college counseling services.

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