To Test or Not to Test: ACT/SAT in the World of College Admissions

With the pandemic has come great anxiety about how to approach the college admissions process. Our current seniors are the most affected, and this leaves the juniors wondering which path to follow when entering the world of college admissions.

ACT/SAT testing has been completely disrupted since March 2020. With abrupt quarantine mandates, the administration teams at ACT/SAT have had to pivot and adapt as this situation has evolved. The College Board moved all Advanced Placement tests to an online format for the May 2020 dates. Questions arose…perhaps the ACT/SAT would follow that format? ACT had planned to roll out an online test in the Fall of 2021 until the pandemic halted those plans.

The ACT/SAT have been so much an integral part of the admissions process that many wonder what would happen next. With each test date starting March 2020, tests were canceled, rescheduled — then cancelled and rescheduled again as the year progressed. The current seniors were left to navigate this competitive path to college with new roadblocks to evade.

Many colleges, including those in the Ivy League, announced the unprecedented move to having the  SAT/ACT test be an optional aspect of admissions for the classes of 2021 and 2022. In May 2020, the University of California Board of Regents announced that it, too, would go test-optional for the current seniors, the class of 2022, and out-of-state applicants for Fall of 2023 and 2024. By the end of summer 2020, more than 400 colleges stopped requiring the ACT/SAT.  The College Board made the announcement in January 2021 that the SAT Subject Tests will no longer be administered in the U.S. for students. The NCAA has also stated that the student-athletes for the 2021-22 academic year will not be required to take the ACT/SAT.

Even though colleges have stressed the test-optional status for admissions, students have an increased awareness for the opportunity to quantifiably distinguish themselves at whatever cost. The ironic reality is that the number of students now registering for the ACT/SAT has raised the demand for the tests. Instead of experiencing relief over not being required to take the ACT/SAT, the number of students registering increased across all test dates. Over 2.2 million from the class of 2020 took the SAT! With seating capacity cut in half, students began proactively crossing state lines in order to sit for an available test. It has been quite a phenomena to watch this unfold. The end result is that it has become more difficult to project the best path for students who are undecided about whether to take the ACT/SAT. Some colleges will continue to rely on the test scores to award scholarships, and those are vital for students who need financial assistance toafford the schools of their dreams.

In a year where colleges expected a decrease in the applications due to the worldwide pandemic, so far the results are startling. Based on early action/early decision data from colleges across the country, the opposite has occurred. With high-end, competitive colleges going test-optional, schools such as Colgate have had a 102% increase in applications, Harvard’s early applicants increased by 57%, Yale and Princeton by 50% and MIT by over 60%. Having said this, other schools that are not in those tiers have seen a drastic decrease in numbers. Application numbers to SUNY institutions have fallen by over 20%.

To test or not to test? With the demand coming from the students, the next couple of years for the test companies and colleges nationwide will be interesting to watch. Students must be savvy in making sure that if they decide to test that their dream school is willing to accept scores lower than their norm. Extra caution is advised, for if the score does not meet the range set by the college, it could hurt the chances of acceptance more than simply not sending the scores to be considered.

As we all help our seniors and juniors prepare for what’s next, the best advice is to not rely on the past. Trends indicate a very turbulent year of unknowns in the college admissions world. The best advice is to encourage students to contact their dream school and make sure they are providing the best comprehensive application. The need to highlight capstone projects and convey to a prospective college all the things that make each student unique as it will carry more weight than ever before. With such a spike in applications, the yield for the colleges will not be the same, and most schools predict they will be using the waiting list more than in years past.

Fasten those seat belts. The journey of college admissions is still under construction.

This blog post was written by Sandy Gamba, Chief Administrative Officer / Founder of ADVANTAGES DLS. For more information on navigating the college admissions process, connect with Sandy by clicking here.