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To Test or Not to Test?

Updated: Oct 5, 2021

Two weeks ago, NACAC (National Association for College Admissions Counseling) hosted its annual conference in Seattle. This 4-day, super-charged event included a plethora of sessions on the latest updates and trends in college admissions, but standardized testing stole the show. Everyone wanted to know: How did colleges adjust their admission strategies to make important decisions without test scores? Were students who didn’t submit test scores truly not disadvantaged in the process? How did a test-optional year play out and were colleges transparent about how they ultimately shaped their class of 2025?

Lots of questions, but unsatisfactory answers. For starters, out of the 1755 colleges that were test-optional last year, only 21* came clean and released detailed admissions data. And even among these 21 colleges, there was a wide discrepancy with how they adopted the “test-optional” label. Some colleges were truly test-optional (where test non-submitters did not have a disadvantage), while other colleges clearly favored students who submitted test scores. Of course, college admissions is complex and holistic and many factors play into the decision-making process, but this is what the preliminary data seems to suggest.

In the absence of test scores, colleges found it difficult to:

  1. Make admission decisions

  2. Award merit-based scholarships (because GPAs are not standardized across high schools so a 4.0 at one school cannot be equated to a 4.0 at another school)

  3. Identify and recruit prospective students (because colleges typically buy student data from testing agencies. In fact, the SAT is believed to sell student data 18 times over the course of a student’s high school career)

Despite these challenges, test-optional policies are here to stay for the foreseeable future. And although there may be a small uptick in the number of colleges that go test-blind, this number is not projected to increase dramatically**. So high schoolers, please read what colleges are not telling you; they may remove testing requirements in the name of access and equity, but they are also benefitting immensely from the increased number of applications they receive which in turn lowers their acceptance rate and improves their optics.

So, if you get an opportunity, please consider taking a standardized test. You may not see the merit in this now, but you are likely to do so in the future.


*Revolution Prep, institution admission pages, press releases, NACAC 2021

**Kenton Pauls, Director of ACT, NACAC 2021

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