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Test Optional: How Does COVID-19 Affect Your Application?

test optional during coronavirus pandemic

April 16, 2020

Given the recent cancellations of SAT and ACT test dates through June, more than two dozen colleges all over the country have decided to go test optional for next year’s application cycle. This means that official test scores will no longer be a required part of the application. Though not an exhaustive list, these colleges include Williams, Amherst, the University of California system, Tulane, Vassar, Pomona, Davidson, Haverford, and Rhodes. This leaves many students and parents with questions, so we’ll try to answer them as best we can.

Does optional really mean optional?

For most students, no, probably not.  Test-optional is not the same as test-blind (test blind means that scores are not considered AT ALL).  What this means is that schools that are test optional will still evaluate test scores for students who send them.  Students whose test scores are strong and “match” their grades in school will be at an advantage against a student who doesn’t send scores at all. 

Another point to consider is that US News and World Report rankings take into account average SAT and ACT scores for incoming students.  Competitive schools take these rankings seriously. As such, schools benefit from having high scoring students in their class. So, sending your scores will be a huge asset to your application regardless of test optional policies. 

Some schools, including Davidson, Haverford and Rhodes college are using this opportunity to test out a three year pilot program of test optional admissions.  For these institutions, it is more likely that test scores may play a lesser role as these schools have reasons beyond COVID-19 to see if test optional admissions really works for them.

Does this mean my student doesn’t need to take the SAT at all?

No, unless your student is dead set on attending a college with a long history (read: many, many years and successful admissions cycles) of test optional or test blind admissions, your student should still take the SAT or ACT.  

The CollegeBoard has cancelled the SAT until the August 29th exam.  Then, they will open a test administration every month through the end of 2020.  If social distancing is still in effect in August, they plan to allow for virtual administrations.  

The ACT has not yet made an announcement on the June administration.  The ACT also offers a mid-July test date that may go as planned.  We expect that the ACT will follow the CollegeBoard’s lead if summer test dates are cancelled and allow for more frequent testing throughout the fall. 

Regardless of testing policy, the SAT and ACT have always been and  still are a way for your student to stand out. If your student has been prepping for either test, they should take it as soon as the possibility arises.  

Without the testing requirement, will it be easier to get into selective colleges?

No, probably not.  The reality of the situation is that the admissions offices at most colleges are not equipped to evaluate thousands of applicants without the context of test scores. Think about it: the intended purpose of standardized tests is to have some sort of standard metric with which to compare students.  Grades just don’t suffice. Schools offer different curricula, varying rigor, and even unique grading scales. 

To evaluate students across the country without test scores would mean that admissions officers have a depth of knowledge on every applicant’s high school.  This includes international students, which make up a significant portion of the class at top schools, and homeschooled students.  

We expect that top schools will still make a large majority of their decisions using test scores.  There might be some exceptions: recruited athletes, students who have a truly exceptional skill, or students from uniquely diverse backgrounds.  

My student has an SAT score they are really proud of, what does this mean for them?

Your student should move forward as they would under normal conditions.  Your students’ test scores will still serve them well in the college admissions process. 

I have or plan to take the SAT/ACT, but what about SAT subject tests? Do I need to take those?

Just like the SAT/ACT, these subject tests serve as a way to stand out and show that you know your stuff. This is especially true if your school doesn’t offer AP classes and instead has “honors” or “advanced” courses. By virtue of not having an AP score, admissions officers won’t be able to evaluate the rigor of honors or advanced courses without some other metric: SAT subject test scores.

For students with their sights set on selective schools, we urge you to still take these subject tests.  

All current Streamline clients can schedule a free one-hour college counseling consultation.  If you have any questions about how to proceed in this unusual time, please feel free to give us a call at 410-366-0479.  

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