Originally published in NYMetroParents
Widespread changes across the admissions process certainly show the continuing impact of COVID-19 on the world of higher education, and leave a number of questions unanswered for this year’s applicants. Should your student still prepare for and take standardized exams? How might new changes impact test preparation strategies? How do I approach applying to college if standardized tests aren’t weighed as heavily, or are optional?
First, let’s break down some of these most recent changes. The College Board has announced that they will no longer offer SAT Subject Tests to U.S. students, and will discontinue the optional SAT Essay after the slated June 2021 test date. In an effort to soften the impact of an already stressful school year, this decision will aim to reduce the testing requirements demanded of college applicants and streamline the application process for students and colleges alike. The College Board is certainly not alone in sending shockwaves through the landscape of standardized testing. These newest shifts come on top of decisions from hundreds of colleges to temporarily make test score submissions optional, or even eliminate them altogether as an admissions requirement for this year’s applicants.
For standardized entrance exams, like the SAT and ACT, how can you know if test-optional is right for your student? Develop your college list, and if at least one of those colleges requires certain tests, or is not test blind, well, you know what you need to do. Even amid this test-optional admissions climate, we typically recommend students with adequate time to develop a testing timeline and rigorously prepare for the exam, do take at least one administration of the test. Most often, sending along more representative information to an admissions office on your abilities as a student is helpful. These tests, while they should not solely define your student’s future, can be a helpful indicator of skill and readiness, which can sometimes help ensure a student will be successful in terms of the difficulty of college coursework. However, if the score you receive will not add value to your application portfolio, that is it does not fall within or exceed the average scores of a school’s applicant pool, it may not be worth sending.
As certain testing components, such as Subject Tests and SAT Essays, become obsolete, students should be aware that others will begin to take on new significance. The growing availability and popularity of subject-specific AP courses, for example, are now a key metric to demonstrate students’ mastery of certain academic disciplines, as well as rigor in their course sequencing. Further, sections of the SAT exam, such as the Reading and Writing & Language portions, as well as personal statement components of the typical college application, are now used to adequately showcase students’ writing skills. It will be important, now more than ever, to more purposefully prepare for and be mindful of these portions of the college application.
However your student proceeds, sending forth a holistically representative application that communicates their unique strengths and interests as a student and individual remains most important.