While the coronavirus pandemic has certainly transformed the college admissions landscape and higher education as a whole, one of its most significant impacts has been on standardized testing requirements.

A background on the test-optional movement

Test-optional policies have become more common in recent years in an effort to increase access to higher education opportunities, especially for low-income and minority applicants. However, this movement has gained momentum amidst the COVID-19 pandemic due to global lockdowns and social distancing, which made it difficult to administer the SAT and ACT exams. The lack of access to these exams resulted in over two-thirds of four-year colleges in the US going test-optional for the Class of 2021.

Schools, like Caltech took this a step further by announcing a pilot two-year test-blind policy, which means that even if students choose to submit their test scores, they would not be considered by the admissions committee. The University of California, meanwhile, decided that it would phase out its ACT/ SAT requirements altogether and introduce its own test by 2025. However, these were exceptions to the rule, as the majority of schools temporarily waived these requirements by going test-optional for the 2021 application season.

Will test-optional admissions remain in place for 2022 applicants?

Several schools have already extended their test-optional policies for applicants who plan to enrol as first-year and transfer students in Fall 2022. The National Center for Fair & Open Testing estimates that at least 1,170 schools will be test-optional for 2022 applicants. This list includes all eight of the Ivy League schools, with Cornell even announcing a “score-free policy” for four of its schools, which in practice will have the same effect as a test-blind approach.

A select subset of schools have gone the extra mile and decided to remain test-optional until 2023 like Amherst College, Tufts University, Barnard College, University of Southern California, University of Virginia and Vassar College. Institutions like Babson College and Bucknell University have announced that they will remain test-optional until the 2024 admissions cycle, while the University of Oklahoma has extended its test optional policy through to 2025.

Here is a useful list of schools and their standardized testing policies.

How will this affect the admissions process going forward?

While it is safe to say test-optional admissions are here to stay, it is not entirely clear how long they will remain in place as colleges are evidently taking different approaches when it comes to this. Here are a few things to consider:

  • The vast majority of test-optional extensions are due to the continued disruption to testing, as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing regulations. Most schools are therefore waiting to see how vaccine rollouts unfold over the course of 2022, and will possibly revert to requiring standardized test scores once it is possible to administer these exams safely again. The College Board is also working on rolling out an entirely digital version of the SAT exam, which could also tip the balance in favor of test requirements, as this would overcome one of the main administrative hurdles in the current scenario.
  • On the other hand, there is a small, but growing, number of schools that are currently in the midst of two- and three-year test-optional pilot programs. While these experiments have in part been prompted by the pandemic, they are also aimed at exploring the long-term impact of test-optional admissions, specifically whether they can bring in more diverse applicants by levelling the playing field. Depending on the data from these pilot programs, it is possible that more colleges will consider text-flexible approaches in the future.

While it is difficult to predict exactly what the future of standardized testing will look like, events of the past year have certainly forced schools and other stakeholders in the education system to re-evaluate testing policies and requirements as a whole. Early this year, the College Board announced the discontinuation of SAT Subject Tests and the SAT essay, which already reduces the number of standardized tests that applicants will be required to take from this year onwards. But whether colleges are ready to bid farewell to testing altogether is something that still remains to be seen.

Should I take the SAT / ACT even if my schools are practicing test-optional admissions?

Colleges that are test-optional will still consider your test scores if you submit them. While the absence of test scores will not put you at a disadvantage, a good score on the SAT / ACT can still boost your application. We always advise that students start their testing journey by taking diagnostic exams for both the SAT and ACT, which could help you understand whether you are in a good position to meet your standardized testing goals. If your circumstances permit and tests are being offered in your area, it is probably worth registering for and taking a test if highly selective US universities are your target. It is, however, advisable to check the specific test requirements for each school where you end up applying, as there can be slight variations, even between test-optional policies, and this landscape is an ever-evolving one, with new announcements from colleges every day!

We understand that navigating the standardized testing process can be overwhelming and may seem especially uncertain this year. If you find yourself wondering how this is going to affect your applications, get in touch.

We will continue to keep a close eye on this story and further developments around standardized testing, so be sure to watch this space for more updates!