By Alyse Levine, Founder & CEO of Premium Prep College Counseling
The past seven months have presented a fair share of challenges for everyone. No process, business or individual has gone unaffected, and this includes the college admissions process. The ways in which this process has been impacted are countless, and the stress it has caused for our high schoolers is very real. The dynamic between college admissions and Covid can add another level of uncertainty to a process that was already riddled with anxiety before the global pandemic hit.
Now that the future is so unclear, students’ anxiety has understandably grown. Your high school experience has been dramatically impacted, as has the college admissions process.
Here’s a closer look at what has changed and what you need to know.
Standardized Testing during Covid
No one aspect of the process has been more impacted than standardized testing. The inability to take the SAT and/or ACT due to widespread test closures throughout the pandemic has led more than 500 colleges to adopt a test-optional policy, giving you the choice to send or not send tests. This is the list of test-optional schools.
Over 70% of America’s 4-year colleges are now test-optional, as are over 90% of the nation’s most selective schools. While there had been a pre-pandemic movement towards test-optional with a growing number of schools–George Washington in 2015, Wake Forest in 2008, Bowdoin (the very first!) in 1969–no one could have anticipated that all of the Ivy League schools, the top liberal arts colleges (including Amherst, Pomona and Williams), and just about every top flagship state school, including Michigan, UNC and UVA, would be test-optional.
Some colleges are even adopting a test-blind policy, in which test scores are not accepted at all. This includes some if not all of the University of California schools. (Some of these schools are challenging a recent court injunction to go test-blind.) In addition, half of Cornell’s schools are now test-blind, as is Dickinson College.
So what to do? For seniors, this is tricky. If you have test scores, be sure to look at how your scores compare to the middle 50% score range for each college on your list. Determine if your score represents you well and how it compares to your transcript and GPA. If you haven’t taken tests or are not happy with your scores, it is completely acceptable not to send your scores. More than 500 colleges have signed a commitment stating that “Test Optional Means Test Optional.”
That said, I understand the skepticism and concern that abounds about how not sending scores could disadvantage a student. The question of how colleges can assess a student without this key and historical part of their metrics is a reasonable one. But colleges are furiously working to pivot–consulting with their test-optional peer institutions and training their staff to prepare them for this new evaluation process. I am confident colleges will not penalize students who do not submit test scores. At the same time, I am sympathetic to students who are worried about how not having test scores could negatively impact them. Remember this is a highly unusual time and everyone, including admissions offices, is going to be understanding and flexible.
Should I try to take a test now? This is another common question. Of course, the answer is: only if you can do this safely and without having to put you and your loved ones in harm’s way. In addition, no one is expecting students to travel great distances for these tests; that is simply too much. For juniors: because many schools have not yet set their policies beyond this year, I recommend you prepare for an SAT or ACT and plan to take it when you can. Try to prepare to take it early so that you have ample time to test again should the test be cancelled, or if you want to re-test.
As you can see, there is no one clear answer that suits every student. It’s important to consider each school you are applying to, your strengths as an admissions candidate and your test scores/possible test dates as you make your decision. This is also where working with a professional counselor, like one of our experts at Premium Prep, can help. Our team has always stayed on top of these developments and trends pre-Covid;, now, we are ever more focused on helping students and families navigate this terrain based on their individual considerations. Let us know if we can help you too!
Up Next in Part 2 of College Admissions during Covid: The Changing Landscape. Questions you have about essays, extracurricular activities, reference and more!