By Juaquin, IvyWise College Admissions Counselor
SAT and ACT testing has been dramatically affected by COVID-19. Testing opportunities have been few and far between, resulting in some students having to travel hundreds of miles to find an open testing center, spurring many colleges to announce test-optional admissions policies this year. While some colleges have said the switch is temporary, standardized testing has been a hot topic for many years and this gives us an opportunity to reimagine the admission process. Test-optional admissions can be an excellent opportunity for many students, but it is still important to understand how testing fits into the admission process and how to develop a strategy that works best for you.
How Does Test-Optional Affect Admissions?
Test-optional is not a new concept. Hundreds of colleges, even many selective ones, have offered their applicants the choice to apply without SAT or ACT scores for years. But now, the pandemic has required all colleges to adapt in some way with very little time to plan. Of course every college is different, but what they do have in common is concern for their rankings. The data shows moving to test-optional admissions increases the number of applicants, as acceptances remain relatively unchanged. The result is a lower admit rate/higher selectivity which can improve the school’s ranking. The flip side of that, however, is fewer scores can also hurt their ranking, as rankings lists like US News & World Report want to see a certain percentage of scores from applicants. So many schools are trying to strike a delicate balance with how many applications they consider with and without scores. Ultimately, colleges have their best interest in mind and it is important you have a strategy that prioritizes what works best for you.
Should I take the SAT or ACT this school year?
The college admissions process is about making decisions and it is important to understand what test-optional really means before thinking standardized tests don’t matter. If a college or university has a test-optional admission policy, it means that they will allow applicants to apply without submitting SAT or ACT scores as part of their application, but that they will still accept and evaluate SAT or ACT scores if a student submits them. Test-optional is not test-blind.
Standardized test scores are only one factor in a holistic admission review process, so colleges will also consider your transcript, essay, and recommendation letters among other things to determine admission. Even at test-optional schools, standardized testing does not guarantee admission, but good scores can increase your chances of being admitted, receiving financial aid or merit scholarships, and possibly exemption from introductory courses.
For students who don’t feel their transcript reflects their true ability, standardized tests can be a way to show college admission officers their potential to achieve in college. If a school uses an admission index, like the UC system, first generation and students from low income families may be eligible when combining standardized testing with their GPA, who otherwise may have been denied based on their GPA alone.
In short, students who would benefit from including a strong score in their application should try to take either the SAT or ACT this fall if available and safe. Students should opt to see their scores before they determine if they should send them to colleges – don’t send your scores blindly when you register for the test.
How Should I Prep for the SAT/ACT This Fall?
If you choose to take a standardized test you should prepare by developing a test prep strategy that includes practice exams and test prep tutoring, if needed. The tests are standard and can be learned, however, studying for the SAT or ACT should not take precedence over your coursework as your grades should be your top priority.
This year we know there are limited in-person testing options available, so it is important to have a plan and take a practice test for the ACT and SAT as soon as possible to determine which exam best suits your strengths. You should prioritize the ACT and/or the SAT and plan to take the exam more than once if possible. Once you receive your scores, you’ll need to determine whether or not to submit them by using admission test score statistics.
I Have SAT/ACT Scores, Should I Submit Them?
Your decision to submit your test scores will depend on whether your scores are in the middle 50th percentile or higher than the average admitted student at each individual school. If your scores fall below the middle 50th percentile but the rest of your application meets the caliber of the institution, then you should consider not submitting test scores. Again, applicants are not penalized for not submitting their test scores under a test-optional policy.
When comparing your scores to the admission data, also ask yourself if your scores support or detract from your academic profile? If it diminishes your profile, then you should not feel pressured to submit them to test-optional schools. In the end, it is an individual decision based on your personal information, but don’t limit your options because you just don’t want to take the tests. Also keep in mind, if you do not submit your test scores the admission officer will put more emphasis on the other pieces of your application.
Of course we can’t determine the future, but we know more colleges than ever before are adopting test-optional admissions policies this year. Students should feel empowered knowing how the exams are used in the process and that they have the choice of submitting scores or not. Making a decision to submit your scores requires you to take the exams and do your research. If you need guidance on whether to submit scores or not, our expert college admissions counselors can provide personalized in-depth advice. If you are planning to test this fall, our team of test prep tutors can help you make your opportunity count and reach your goal score with targeted prep. Contact us today for more information on our college counseling programs for high school seniors.