#College Essays and Applications

The COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread SAT/ACT cancelations last spring, as well as individual test-center cancelations this fall, leading almost all colleges to adopt test-optional admissions policies for the current seniors applying.

So what does this mean for the current junior class?

It Depends…

The short answer is, “It depends.” Colleges’ policies will to some extent depend on how the pandemic influences test cancelations through this spring and into the fall. If we continue to see widespread cancelations of SAT and ACT test centers, colleges will be forced again to be almost universally test-optional. But if we see a situation where the pandemic resolves in some way and tests are mostly able to be held as normal, it is likely that most colleges will revert to their standard policy of requiring test scores.

More Test-Optional Options Than Usual

Even if the pandemic were to miraculously disappear tomorrow, next year would still provide more opportunities than most years for students to apply test-optional. Some colleges, such as Tufts and Elon, have already announced multi-year test-optional pilot programs which will extend to current juniors. They plan to re-evaluate after the trial period. A few others, like Indiana and Davidson, plan to remain test-optional permanently.

Should I Apply Test-Optional?

It is important to remember that test-optional does not mean that test scores do not matter or will not be considered. Test-optional simply means that students have the option to apply and be evaluated by colleges without submitting test scores.

Of course, students who are unable to take the SAT or ACT – due to either cancellations in their local area or being a high risk for COVID-19 – may not have a choice in whether to apply test-optional or not. However, many students will end up needing to calculate whether or not they should send their test score(s) to a test-optional college.

The bottom line is that a strong test score will still help your student’s application. “Strong” here means at or above a college’s median SAT score. If your student scores at or above a college’s median, submit the score. If your student’s score is lower than that, then their grades and academic rigor need to be able to replace the test score on their application in order for it to make sense not to submit the score.

What “Replaces” Test Scores?

Grades and academic rigor have always been the most important factors to colleges, and this only becomes more true in an application without SAT/ACT scores. For this reason, it is imperative for test-optional applicants to focus on earning the best grades they can. If your student is falling behind in school, consider academic tutoring to help turn B’s into A’s and C’s into B’s. Course selection also becomes more important without test scores to add context to a student’s performance in school. Contact us with any questions about course selection.

Other factors, such as the college essay, activities, and letters of recommendation become more impactful too, as colleges lose one of the primary indicators of a student’s academic profile.

What About Test Blind, or Score Free?

A test blind, or score free, policy means that a college will not consider SAT/ACT scores at all in their admissions decisions. A few colleges, such as some colleges within Cornell, have decided to change to a score free policy temporarily due to the pandemic. The University of California system has announced a long term plan to become test blind, though they will be test optional for current juniors. Ultimately juniors cannot plan to apply test-blind because so few schools offer it, but it is important to know that this policy exists at a few colleges.

How Do SAT Subject Tests Fit In?

SAT Subject Tests had been losing their status in college admissions long before the current pandemic. If your student is at all worried about being able to find a seat for an official SAT/ACT, focus on that first and foremost. At colleges where SAT Subject Tests are still accepted, they function as “brownie points” on an application – they can be a small positive, but a strong SAT/ACT score would do much, much more for your student’s application.

Ultimately, we still recommend students plan to take and submit an SAT/ACT with their college applications. It remains one more way to demonstrate a student is qualified to attend their college of choice, even if that school makes scores optional. There are also some colleges that use SAT/ACT scores for merit scholarship consideration even if they are test-optional for admissions. And at this time, there is no guarantee that colleges will be as universally test-optional for the current juniors as they have been for this year’s seniors.

As always, please contact us with any questions you have!