Many universities have made standardized testing an optional part of the application process long before the COVID-19 pandemic, but, now that it is physically dangerous for students to gather at testing centers in large groups, even more institutions have adopted this policy.
Boston University, Northeastern University and several University of California schools are just a few that have already waived test requirements for the class of 2025.
The College Board officially canceled its May 2 and June 6 SAT test dates, and has announced tests will be administered once per month from August through December. The ACT rescheduled its April test date for June, which has not been canceled at this time.
“Testing in the college application world is a very controversial topic,” said Bettina Weil, owner and founder of Weil College Advising in Westchester, New York. “The students who can prepare and have the means to have a tutor are going to do better than the others.”
Madi Youngstein, a member of Edgemont Junior/Senior High School’s class of 2021 in Scarsdale, New York, was only able to take the ACT once after her second test date was canceled.
Although she is content with her score, Youngstein said it is frustrating that she can’t retake the test in the spring, as she knows she would have been able to perform better.
“I keep thinking, ‘What’s going to happen if I can’t get my score up and show schools the best that I can do?’” Youngstein said. “But at the same time, I know that everyone and every school is going through this same situation, which is comforting.”
In addition to the uncertainty involving standardized testing, Youngstein said COVID-19 has also made it more difficult to choose which universities she wants to apply to, as she is now limited to virtual tours and unable to get a feel for the campus in person.
Since standardized tests are the main source of revenue for The College Board and ACT, Weil said she expects the tests will still happen, whether they’ll be held in testing centers or in a virtual form.
She said the ACT had already been working on an online version of the test before the pandemic, which is expected to be ready by the end of fall 2020 or the beginning of the winter. Weil said ACT is now trying to speed up this process.
Weil said these standardized tests are still useful, even though low-income students are unable to afford the same level of tutoring as higher-income students.
“This is a measure that everyone takes, so it is really an objective way of evaluating a student,” Weil said.
Bruce Bunnick, Lehigh’s director of Admissions, said while Lehigh is still requiring test scores for 2021 applicants, Admissions will be monitoring the situation as it progresses.
“We are looking to both The College Board and ACT to provide some guidance on moving their tests to online platforms, but we are also sensitive to the fact that students who do not have access to the technology could be affected and impacted,” Bunnick said.
Bunnick said in past years, the SAT and ACT have been only a single component in Lehigh’s entire evaluation process, as the university’s admissions decisions follow a holistic application review process.
Weil said for test-optional schools, applications will be undergoing a much more time consuming review.
“Some [schools]will need to have more people reviewing the applications because it’s not just a number… you have to really go through the essay and the recommendations,” Weil said.
Weil said teacher recommendations and the personal essay are going to become more important. Weil, who has been in the college prep industry for 16 years, said she has always stressed the importance of the personal statement.
She said test optional practices will also increase the applicant pool for various schools.
“More people will apply, and the acceptance rates will go down,” Weil said. “That’s what all colleges want. They want a lot of applications, and to be able to say, ‘Oh, we are very selective.’”