Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have seen disruptions to their daily lives. As you probably know, these disruptions have affected colleges and the way colleges accept applications. In the last few weeks, Jackie and I have received many questions about these changes.
Many of these questions revolve around ACT and SAT testing. With testing sites closed around the country, many colleges and universities have moved to “test-optional” applications. Though not new, we understand how test-optional applications can be confusing. Below are a few questions and answers—current as of April 19, 2020—that might help you understand them.
What does test-optional mean?
Test-optional applications refer to college applications where it is not mandatory for high school students to submit their SAT or ACT scores.
Why are colleges considering test-optional?
Some colleges, such as George Washington University and Wesleyan University, have not required standardized test results in several years. These schools, most of them liberal arts, argue that making test scores optional allows them to select students holistically instead of relying on test results.
The recent shift to test-optional applications reflects growing uncertainty about whether ACT and SAT testing will be logistically possible over the next few months. Both the College Board and the ACT have canceled or postponed their test dates due to the threat posed by COVID-19. SAT recently canceled its May 2nd test date. ACT postponed the April 4th test date until June 13th, though that might also change since SAT canceled its June 6th test date.
How does a college evaluate an application if a student decides to apply test-optional?
Colleges will use as much information as they have available to evaluate applications. For many colleges, the lack of test scores will likely lead to a greater emphasis on the student’s grades. Other parts of the application, including essays, extracurricular activities, and letters of recommendation, will also likely play a bigger role.
Please keep in mind that test optional does not mean test blind, so colleges will still consider your test results if you choose to provide your standardized test scores.
Does test-optional benefit the student?
It depends. We recommend taking the test if you are still able. If you have a score that is at the 50th percentile or higher for the college you are applying, you can use it to highlight your abilities. For those students that do not score well, it is one less datapoint that can count against you. It may be to your advantage not to submit your score.
What is the real elephant in the room?
The big question is: How will colleges that temporarily pivot to test-optional applications adjust their merit scholarship awards? Many colleges consider a student’s GPA and ACT/SAT test score to determine the amount of the award.
We have spoken to several college admissions officers over the last two weeks to figure out how colleges are addressing this issue. None of the people we’ve spoken have a sense of how they will be awarding ACT- and SAT-dependent scholarships, though most believe they will make decisions in the coming months on a case by case basis.
Jackie and I welcome further questions on the college application process. If you need help working through this or any other college planning issue, you can set up a meeting with us at www.class101.com/clevelandohsoutheast.