In a world of test-optional admissions, should I take the SAT/ACT?
In short, yes.
In 2020, a large number of colleges and universities adopted test-optional admission. Most did so in empathetic response to the difficulty high school students faced as they tried to take the SAT or ACT during the early months of the pandemic. Some national test dates were canceled outright; test sites were frequently canceled, and even when a test site did offer a test, capacity was severely limited due to safety restrictions. Consequently, many Class of 2021 high school students did not have the opportunity to take an SAT or ACT.
We are not out of the “COVID woods” yet, and likely won’t be until mid-summer, according to experts. While some colleges have already announced their testing policies for fall 2022, we may not have fully updated policies from all admission offices until summer. We expect that the majority of schools that adopted 1-year test-optional policies will extend those policies for another year.
Everything to gain, nothing to lose
What does this mean for our current juniors (Class of 2022) who in normal times would likely be in the middle of their testing plans, possibly preparing for a winter/spring SAT or ACT? Since test-optional does not mean test-blind, we recommend that most, if not all, juniors should keep standardized tests on their radar and plan to submit SAT or ACT scores as part of their applications.
With a test score in hand, students have everything to win and nothing to lose. If some schools on your list require scores, you’ll be ready to submit those scores. If others are test-optional, you’ll then have the choice to submit if you feel those scores will represent you well. Dismissing standardized tests out of hand now could present students with a missed opportunity to showcase their academic abilities. Most of our students end up with strong scores that represent them well.
Additionally, an SAT or ACT score can provide data that reinforces a student’s GPA and academic ability, showing that the student can manage the academic rigors of the institution. With remote and hybrid school, student learning – through nobody’s fault – has undoubtedly been hampered. Grade inflation has been trending upward for years, and COVID has arguably accelerated that trend.
We encourage our students to register for the spring tests and to prepare for them, but to do so with a flexible and “eyes wide open” approach. Given that the pandemic is still affecting much of daily life, it is possible that some winter/spring test administrations will get canceled, in which case your testing date will get pushed forward. Fortunately, unlike last year, even if spring testing doesn’t happen for you, it is highly likely that as the pandemic subsides, summer and fall testing will happen with more regularity and significantly more capacity.
Lastly, please check with your school to see if it is offering “school day testing.” School day testing is a service offered by the testing agencies that allows schools to administer an SAT or ACT on a weekday at the school, just for students who attend that school. School day testing ensures that all students at that particular school will have an opportunity to test.
Frequently Asked Questions related to test-optional admissions
Test-blind means that test scores are NOT considered at all in the admissions process. Not many schools are test-blind.
Test-optional means you have the option to send scores or not to send scores. If you send scores, they will be seen and considered by admissions officers. Scores that are in the higher end of the published SAT and ACT ranges for that school will be seen favorably by the admissions team.
Historically, well over 50% of applicants to test-optional schools submit test scores, with more selective schools having percentages of 60-80% or higher. Given the increase in applications, these percentages might dip, but there will still be high percentages of students submitting scores.
Generally speaking, if your scores put you in the upper 50% of a school’s SAT or ACT range, you should send them. Consult with your counselor for guidance as to whether or not it makes sense to send scores to a particular college.
Even though a school might be test-optional, coaches might still need an SAT or ACT score to prove to their admission teams that they are recruiting athletes who meet a certain academic threshold. We encourage you to check with the coaches/colleges that are recruiting you.
Merit aid scholarships, which are generally non-need-based financial aid scholarships, often factor in grades and test scores in determining the amount of those awards. Students with strong test scores are in a better position to maximize merit aid than students with no scores or weaker scores. For context, schools use merit aid scholarships as a recruitment tool to entice strong students to apply and ultimately enroll in their institutions. By factoring in standardized tests, the colleges encourage students with strong test scores to enroll, thereby raising the academic profile and prestige of that institution through their published SAT and ACT scores. Always reach out directly to the institution to inquire whether or not test scores are factored into merit aid scholarships.
When it comes to standardized testing, Summit has always counseled families to take a sane and sensible approach and, perhaps that guidance is more important now than ever before. I encourage you to contact us if you have any questions about taking the SAT or ACT in a college admissions world that is mostly test-optional.