COVID 19 has wreaked havoc across every industry in this country. And higher education has not been spared. Universities across the country are grappling with not only moving classes online, figuring out how to manage virtual graduations, enrolling students for the class of 2024, but they also have to look ahead at the upcoming admission cycle for the class of 2025 whose landscape changes daily.
Here are some things admission officers need to consider. Grading. Some high schools have moved online and some have decided to implement a Pass/Fail or a Complete/Incomplete grade. How will this factor into the student’s GPA? Testing. Advanced Placement tests have been completely reformatted. A test that was once three hours has been condensed to a 45 minute online short answer test. Will universities follow their traditional path and accept scores of 3 or higher for credit? Or does the new test compromise the credibility of the course? How can we expect students to be successful on these tests when their education has been disrupted and they have to acclimate to a whole new normal. With AP tests just weeks away, time is not on our side. And then there is the question about ACT’s and SAT’s. Just yesterday the College Board announced that there would no longer be a June testing date offered which leaves the junior class with just an August date (and that date still remains to be seen) and perhaps a September date. On average, a college applicant takes one-two standardized tests during junior year. With each test, a student sees an increase in score for different reasons. One, practice and familiarity. After one round, the student has a sense of what the test is like which boosts confidence which in turn can impact test scores. A second important benefit of having taken standardized tests during junior year is the relief of pressure students feel. Entering senior year, with testing behind them, can give the student the space to focus on their school work and applications. But in this current climate, there are plenty of juniors who have yet to take one standardized test. There is no way they will be able to take two or even three. So what are colleges doing to address this? It seems as though the answer is Test Optional.
What is Test Optional?
The Test Optional movement began in 2004 and continues until today. Currently there are over 800 schools who have eliminated test score requirements for a variety of reasons. One of the most popular reasons is that admission officers understand that relying on test scores has a negative impact on race and gender, and that test scores do not equal merit. They also understand that a segment of the population achieves higher scores on tests through high price test prep tutors which is not accessible to most. Others argue that a three hour test is not a predictor of success in college and choose to focus on a more holistic review of the student. Now with COVID there is an additional reason why schools are joining the movement- there simply may not be enough time for prospective students to take the exams.
So what does this mean for applicants?
- Admission officers will be looking more closely at letters of recommendation, counselor letters, the rigor of the transcript, the personal statement, and the activity section of the Common Application.
- If a student has had the opportunity to take a test pre- COVID, that test score can still be submitted. I recommend submitting the score only if it falls in the top 50th percentile of the school’s reported admission statistics. If it doesn’t, the student should not submit.
- In lieu of test scores, some schools may ask the student to write an additional essay or submit a graded piece of writing.
- There are certain programs within schools that are test optional that still require test scores. An example is direct admit nursing programs. I recommend checking the school’s website for more information.
- Refer to the complete list of schools that are test optional at http://fairtest.org/ and then refer to again and again. This list is being updated daily.