The move to a test optional application process: a COVID advantage?

April 30, 2021

The amount of challenges for people of all ages that arise from the pandemic are plentiful. For teenagers, a time for exploration and self discovery was flipped completely sideways, forcing every previous notion about what life should be out the window. The college application process is taxing enough within typical circumstances, and much like everything else this year, it has changed. Could these changes be considered the silver-lining to a debilitating global pandemic? 

More than several colleges have made their applications test-optional, meaning students are not required to submit their SAT or ACT scores to be considered, for the upcoming application class of 2022. Schools like Boston University, Columbia University, University of Wisconsin Madison and Harvard University to name a few, have announced that they are test optional for the class of 2022. Some schools such as Indiana University, Michigan State University and University of Chicago are test optional permanently. 

“It makes me more nervous to apply in a weird way,” junior Annalise Belzile said. “Even though I’m not the strongest test taker, I feel with the option of not submitting that I need to overcompensate in other ways like essays, extracurriculars etc”.

Belzile is looking at several schools such as University of Texas at Austin, Washington University in St. Louis and Villanova University, all of which are test optional for 2022. Does the elimination of SAT and ACT requirements actually alleviate stress in upcoming applicants?

“I think it’s positive,” College and Career Counselor Amy Thompson said. “We know that high test scores tell us more about how well-resourced a student is than it may tell us about their abilities.”

It has been made clear that Thompson is not the only one to consider the potential faults of standardized testing. The colleges that have moved test optional for limited time or permanently have done so because they believe that the pandemic has limited students’ abilities to prepare for standardized exams. For example, school from home has limited the typical information students would receive in a school year and exam locations are limited due to restrictions making it difficult to physically take the exam at all. These universities could have also realized precisely what Thompson stated: that standardized tests may not be true measures of a students capabilities, but their resourcefulness. 

“I still feel the SAT and ACT are important at least for our class because these schools have been looking at and judging applicants based on test scores and other numbers for so long,” junior Erin Lindgren said. “However, I am glad that schools are making tests optional as many students aren’t able to take the tests. I had to go to Wisconsin this fall to take an SAT but many students don’t have those opportunities.”

Lindgren and other future applicants do have concerns about whether or not their applications will be looked at fairly and if they will be considered for the same opportunities as those that do submit if they choose not to. 

“I love the idea of moving away from standardized testing like the SAT and ACT but I feel if schools do choose to make things optional permanently, they need to have some sort of equalization factor for those who don’t take the SAT to make sure we are fair with those who do give colleges their test scores,” Belzile said. 

Current juniors, still left with doubts and questions, accept and appreciate the choice at hand whatever it may mean for them, whether it be preparing further or taking some pressure off of the testing aspect of the application process. 

“I would say that the new test optional policies have made me focus more on the SAT than the ACT,” junior and potential Johns Hopkins, Washington University and University of Toronto applicant Emily Fujiwara said. “I am focusing my time more on studying for the SAT so that I can have one really strong score to send in instead of trying to do both. The test optional policy has not made me less stressed though because I still think that test scores can be helpful for the more academically prestigious schools, which is why I am dedicating a lot of time to it.”

Every student considering going to college after high school will handle the continuously changing circumstances surrounding the pandemic. 

“It gives students more choice,” Thompson said. “While that can make explaining the admission process a little more complicated, I’m always happy to see students be given more opportunities to present the information they feel best represents them via their applications.”

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