What You Need to Know About College Admissions: Another One Bites the Dust

Holliston Reporter
College Pursuits

Yale has just joined the rest of the elite group of schools that are once again requiring student applicants to submit standardized test scores (SAT/ACT) as part of their applications to Ivy-Plus institutions.

First it was Georgetown, then MIT. Now Dartmouth, Princeton and Yale have joined the ranks for requiring scores for next year’s (2025 entering class) applicants. I’m sure there are more to come.

Why this re-addition to the application requirement list? During Covid we were all thinking (hoping?) that it was the end of the standardized testing era with the disappearance of the tests. Now they are being revisited and are back at some of the Ivies.  

In the height of Covid, students could not take the SAT/ACT; tests were canceled and institutions removed the mandatory test score submission to colleges. It has continued and now 1800+ institutions or 90% of the four-year colleges in the US are test optional, no longer requiring test scores to be part of the application review. Students could choose whether to send scores along with other application materials, thus creating a test optional approach. 

According to the Common Application, 43% of applicants submitted either SAT or ACT scores last year. This made applications soar at the Ivy Plus schools (the 8 Ivies plus other schools with stellar reputations like MIT, Stanford, UChicago and Johns Hopkins). This created an even  lower acceptance rate at most of these schools. 

Institutions had to place greater emphasis on other application materials like the personal essay, extra-curricular activities and letters of recommendation. As a result, institutions  found that their reviews were more flexible, allowing them to consider students who historically scored lower on these tests. Jeremiah Quinlan from Yale’s Undergraduate admissions reported, “Doing admissions without SATs was manageable. We have found that if you just spend a little bit more time looking at the transcript, the essays, letters of recommendation, or even an interview, you can find evidence of academic preparation or curiosity or excitement or fit for Yale that can make us confident in our ability to admit the right type of students.” 

Many Feel the Test Are Barriers

Numerous studies support the idea that test optional policies help build broader access to higher education and non-submitters of test scores are twice as likely to be first-generation, minorities, Pell Grant recipients and students with learning differences. The tests are barriers to otherwise qualified candidates (2009 Bowen, NACAC/ William Hiss Study, 2008 Wake Forest Report)  

Now we have a turn of events that is requiring standardized tests for admission to some of the elite schools in the country. We’re presented with new arguments. These highly selective colleges think that requiring the SAT/ACT can help create diverse classes of highly talented students. They use the “Diamond in the Rough” argument that requiring scores will help identify students with solid scores coming from less privileged backgrounds, being a sign of enormous candidate potential (NY Times 2024). 

Researchers at these schools found that the test optional choice was hurting lower socio-economic families in a specific way. No test scores resulted in placing greater weight on other parts of the application. And that’s tough for students from lower socio-economic families who can’t support their applications by taking advanced courses, cost-prohibitive special summer programs, or outside activities to support their qualifications. Their school districts may not provide these opportunities and their families can’t financially support it either.  

They are also using grade inflation making the high school transcript less of a predictor of college success. Brown’s president, Christina Paxson, asked a few professors to do an internal study on testing. One of their conclusions was, “Standardized test scores are a much better predictor of academic success than high school grades.” Stuart Schmill, dean of admissions at MIT says, “Just getting straight A’s is not enough information for us to know whether the students are going to succeed or not. Once we brought the test requirement back, we admitted the most diverse class in our history.” 

Dartmouth researchers discovered that some students who withheld test scores would have probably been accepted had they submitted them. Lee Coffin, Dartmouth’s dean of admissions, reported that if some students submitted them, it would have helped them get into the school since “We’re looking for kids who are excelling in their environment. We know society is unequal.” 

So what is a high school student to do? 

  • Take them. Take the SAT or ACT (or both)! 
  • Make your decisions on a case-by-case basis, carefully examining the test requirements at each school to which you are applying.
  • Continue to tell your full story through not only your test scores, but your activities profile, extracurricular activities, personal essay, supplemental essays, and interviews.
  • Work with a college consultant to navigate you through the process. (I’m always up to speed on the latest and greatest in the collegiate world).
  • Send scores to the schools you’re applying to, but choose wisely. Decide which scores you’re going to submit if you take it more than once or take both the SAT and ACT, since colleges no longer require all scores to be sent to them (the exception is Georgetown U); or send them all if the schools super score your results (taking the higher portions of the same tests, even if they are on two separate testing occasions). 

Covid created an opportunity for our society to cast off a tradition that few people enjoyed–taking standardized tests to complete their college applications. It appears we are reverting back to the pre-covid ways allowing the Higher Education Gatekeepers to continue.

Wish we could borrow the Hogwarts Sorting Hat, place it on every college applicant’s head to determine what school they’ll attend. Much simpler, don’t you think?

Joanne Clary Apesos is the owner of College Pursuits, a college counseling business. She has advised high school students and their families in planning their college experience for many years and has presented HEF workshops for students and parents about the college selection process. Prior to assisting high school students, she worked in higher education for 20+ years as an admissions counselor, adjunct faculty and director of student activities at both public and private colleges and universities in the Northeast. She holds a master’s degree in Higher Education from Columbia University and completed UCLA’s College Counseling Certificate Program. She is also a recipient of the State University of New York (SUNY) Chancellor’s Award and selected Holliston’s Citizen of the Year in 2011. She can be reached at joanneapesos@gmail.com.

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