Student: “Now I can apply to IU!”
Me: “You could always apply to Indiana!”
Student: “Now that they are test optional, I can get in.”
A few weeks ago elated applicants texted me when Indiana University announced that they had joined the over one thousand colleges which have removed the requirement to submit an ACT or SAT score as part of their application. Does that mean that it is suddenly easier to be admitted?
Why do some colleges have test optional admission policies? Each test optional college has its own reasoning. Here are a few:
“Research indicates that for most students, high school GPA paired with test scores provides the best prediction of academic success at Indiana University. However, for some students a standardized test score may not show all that they are capable of and tell the full story of their potential.” ~ Indiana University
“While the ACT and SAT continue to be valuable tools for assessing some students’ college readiness, performance patterns indicate that test content and/or processes do not serve students of all backgrounds equally well—meaning that requiring them for admission consideration potentially creates another barrier to higher education for students who are already facing challenges.” ~ Ferris State University
“External studies show standardized test scores have little broad predictive value for undergraduate success, and a two-year internal study conducted by the K faculty’s Admission and Financial Aid Committee supports that finding. The two-year K study demonstrated that high school GPA is the best and most consistent predictor of collegiate success, across race and ethnicity categories; whereas the predictive value of test scores is limited and varies across racial and ethnic categories. Utilizing test optional admission practices is a more equitable system for all applicants” ~ Kalamazoo College
If a student’s ACT or SAT score does not reflect their ability to succeed academically, then the option to remove the misrepresentation from their academic reputation feels liberating. Having the freedom to be evaluated without including a false evaluation is seen as offering opportunities for admission to those who have the potential to succeed, but not the ACT/SAT score published as the median accepted by the admission office.
Removing testing places more emphasis on the remaining components of the application. A student’s grade point average takes more of a center stage in test optional admission, and is more than a calculation to represent grades earned. A GPA evaluation involves looking closely at what kinds of classes were taken over four years. The most competitive colleges will be looking for a transcript which shows four years of English, math, science, history, and foreign language. Rigor will also be considered. Did the student challenge themselves by taking the most appropriate course load available to them? (More on course schedules the next blog post.)
If a student believes that their rigor, GPA, and the remaining pieces of their application, often including an essay and letters of recommendation, completely represent their potential without submitting their ACT/SAT score, then they should not submit right? Not so fast! (Inflected as ESPN’s Lee Corso‘s booming voice does over a different college campus each fall Saturday.) First check to see if merit scholarship consideration and/or specific program admission require an ACT/SAT score. (Some colleges do not require testing for admission, but do require submission of testing to be eligible for specific courses of study or merit scholarships.)
Why can’t all colleges just use the same information about students? Colleges say the same thing in a different way when they wish that all high schools would use the universal transcripts and grading systems. Of course that still would not insure that all students had the same access to education. Although there is no one purely qualitative way to evaluate the diverse educational experiences of college applicants, the rise in test optional admission colleges has given students more control over how they represent themselves when applying, just as the move to allowing superscores by some colleges did a few years ago.
As colleges continue to evaluate the best information to ask of their applicants, students can maintain control over their process by preparing to take the SAT or ACT. Do not walk in cold. Know how it is formatted, what will be expected, and what you will need on testing day to support your success. Remember, you have more than one shot. This is not an Eminem moment. If you do not like your score, you will have time to test again. And if your repeated testing efforts do not result in a score that represents your abilities, you may consider test optional colleges for their admission policies as well as their offerings.
©Eva McGregor Dodds 2020