A Long-Anticipated Reform in the College Admissions Process

Molly Kaplow, Sentry Reporter

In light of the pandemic, colleges and universities around the country have adopted a test optional policy in the application process, allowing students to choose whether or not to submit their SAT or ACT scores. For decades, these standardized tests have been an important factor in the college admission process and were thought to be one of the main indicators of a student’s success in the classroom. Due to the test optional policy, many schools have seen a drastic increase in applicants.. The test optional policy has proven to be a saving grace for hundreds of thousands of students. In turn, schools have had to become more selective about who they admit.

Though the test optional policy has been around since the 1970s, many schools did not adopt it until 2020, when the pandemic jeopardized the fate of college admissions. The University of California (UC) system announced that it was going test blind, meaning SAT and ACT scores, even if submitted by students, would not be looked at by admissions officers. 

“A lot of educators across our system really felt that tests in general are an obstacle for a lot of our applicants, and in the thought of trying to be as fair and as equitable, and to provide access to all of our applicants, the conversation saying that we should eliminate these tests had already been taking place. A lot of researchers say they are not great indicators of a student’s level of success and what they’re going to bring to the table, but what the pandemic did was it pushed it to the forefront even quicker,” Jua Howard, Assistant Director of Admissions at UC Berkeley, said. 

In 2006, George Mason University (GMU) became the first public institution in Virginia to become test optional. They introduced the policy with the belief that applicants are defined by more than a test score. 

“Mason is the kind of university where our whole personality centers around understanding our students a little bit better than just as a cross-section of a grade point average (GPA) and a test score. We look for a wide variety of students and SATs are very imperfect in ways that disadvantage a lot of the students that choose Mason,” Eva Bramesco, the Associate Director of Undergraduate Admissions at GMU, said. 

For many, standardized testing provides a multitude of challenges. SAT and ACTs in particular are designed to assess how well students perform under a time constraint

With test scores scores being taken out of the mix, admissions officers have had to take other factors of the application process into more consideration. 

“The most important thing to any school that you apply to will always be the transcript because you’re a student, we’re a school, and we have to see how that’s been going. If you think about it like a pie chart, that’s always the biggest slice. If you take a slice out of that pie chart, you still have to fill in the circle, so every other slice gets bigger. If you apply as a test optional student, we are looking more closely at your classes,” Bramesco said. 

The new testing policies have introduced the question of which scores to submit. When applying to a school, admissions officers are looking at a range of test results that make up one’s portfolio as a student. The most beneficial decision for applicants is to send in scores that give an accurate idea of their work ethic and overall grades. 

“If you are getting A’s in your honor and AP classes, but you get ‘scantron paralysis’ when you sit down with the bubbles and the No. 2 pencil, that’s just a fact of your existence. If those test scores are not matching up with everything else you’ve got going on, that’s the exact type of student that that policy is designed for. Not everyone is a test taker and these tests are problematic in themselves,” Bramesco said. 

Because the select group of students that choose to submit their SAT or ACT results are typically those with exceptionally high scores, the average range of scores recommended for applicants has increased. However, admissions officers recommend students still take the SAT or ACT, as a good score never hurts to send in. 

“We encourage students to take the test at least once, because good scores still definitely add to an application. If you choose not to send your scores, it’s definitely not a disadvantage to the process. We look at our applications very holistically, so for the students who might not be best represented by their test scores but still excel in the classroom, they can still show that in a lot of different ways,” Brendan Reilly, an admissions counselor at UVM, said.

Scores that are recommended to be submitted are those that best support each student’s academic profile. Choosing what to include in an application has become another piece of the puzzle that is the college admissions process. 

“A lot of this, ‘should I send this test or should I not?’ becomes its own whole new decision making process. This was supposed to be less stressful for you, but now it’s got this whole new question which is stressful in itself…. Talk to [admissions officers] about your scores, and we’ll tell you how your application is strongest. We’re really happy to give very direct answers, because it’s not supposed to introduce a new mystery for applicants to solve and take guesses on. You don’t need that, it’s a very stressful feeling. We don’t want you guys to stress more than you usually do without all of this,” Bramesco said.