Juniors and seniors may invest in SAT and ACT practice books to improve test scores and consequently, their chances at admission and scholarships. This year, standardized test scores played a smaller role in the decision process as many schools went test optional. (Photo by Lucy Valeski)
Juniors and seniors may invest in SAT and ACT practice books to improve test scores and consequently, their chances at admission and scholarships. This year, standardized test scores played a smaller role in the decision process as many schools went test optional.

Photo by Lucy Valeski

Standardized testing takes a backseat in the class of 2021’s college application process

December 11, 2020

College admissions, a lengthy and difficult process for some high school seniors, changed for the class of 2021 as COVID-19 limited standardized testing dates. While many colleges required SAT or ACT scores for admissions in previous years, they made the switch to temporary or permanent holistic test optional applications, with a few exceptions, such as the Florida public schools. 

“I do not think, this year, there is any reason kids should feel like they have to send test scores,” College and Career Resource Center Counselor Amy Thompson said, “I do not think they will be at a disadvantage. There have been a lot of schools who have been test optional for a really long time, and I think they have done a really good job of doing outreach to schools who have joined test optional this year.”

Many York seniors chose against sending their test scores this year. Thompson sited the trend with the increase in schools offering test optional admission this year. Other seniors believed their scores did not represent them as students or were unhappy with their limited testing attempts. In support of their plight, University of California suspended the use of standardized test scores for the fall of 2021 in an attempt to create a more equitable college admissions process. 

“I think being able to apply test-optional allows people who may not be able to get a test to still apply to college,” senior Judith Rosland said. “As well as that, it lessens the stress on students to do well on the test.”

While the number of test optional applications increased for the 2021 graduating class, some seniors still chose to send their SAT or ACT scores. Some seniors who’s scores fit into their desired colleges’ student profile opted into sending standardized test scores. 

“I was able to take the SAT and ACT before the pandemic, and I was happy with those scores so I sent them into my early action colleges,” senior Stephanie Yang said. “Then I took the school SAT, and I improved so I used that score to apply to some later early action schools and my regular decision schools.”

The SAT and ACT exist as one data point in a majority of college’s holistic review process. The admissions committee may look at an applicant’s grade point average, course rigor, personal statement, letters of recommendation, extra curriculars, supplemental essays and possibly their test scores. Many universities select applicants on how well they will fit in and contribute to the school’s environment. 

“Test scores are a good indication of some things, but there are other things that can give us just as good of a measure,”  Assistant Principal of Academics Adam Roubitcheck said. “I think taking a balanced schedule, taking a rigorous schedule, being involved in extracurriculars [is a good indicator]. One thing that has really increased in importance in college admissions is teacher recommendations. A teacher or counselor writing a really good letter showing they have a good understanding of a student is really important. So, students developing strong relationships with their teachers so they can get that good letter is very very important.”

Following the admissions trend, Elmhurst University, located in the heart of our community, utilized the test optional application this year. Students who demonstrate their ability better through writing may submit a supplemental essay in place of test scores.

“Test optional applications allow students the choice to present their academic credentials in the best way they believe reflects their ability,” Elmhurst University Senior Director of First-Year and International Admission, Christine Grenier said. “For students who do not feel a test score reflects their ability or who cannot take their test, applying test-optional provides an alternative. We have not seen any drawbacks. Our challenges have been educating students and parents about the fact that students have access to the same generous scholarships that Elmhurst offers students presenting test scores.”

Future college applicants may also save money on SAT tutors or lengthy ACT prep books. Some colleges, such as Boston University, declared they would remain test optional for the class of 2021 and 2022. By extending the test optional policy, colleges have access to data indicating if students accepted with test scores exceed students accepted without scores in their first year of enrollment. Larger schools receiving enormous amounts of applicants may not change their test policy as it remains difficult to review each applicant comprehensively. Testing companies, such as the College Board, also may advocate for test requirements because they financially benefit from them.

“The bottom line is colleges know exactly what they are looking for,” Roubitchek said. “They are going to figure out who sort of fits the bill. I think testing companies have a lock on education, and they are making a lot of money off of it. It is going to be a fight and a negotiation. Colleges are going to push back and testing companies are going to push back. We’ll see where it lands.”

The class of 2021 experienced an unconventional college admissions process. While some factors remain unknown, such as how colleges will proceed with applications in future years and the impact of not sending scores in admission decisions, Thompson encourages students to support one another and use the College Counseling and Resources Center. 

“College and universities understand the challenges students have faced with transitioning to e-learning, the continuous switching between remote and hybrid scheduling, as well as access issues and the stress that testing during the pandemic presents,” Grenier said.

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