The Future of College Admissions: Going Test-Optional

Jerilyn Garrett, Staff Reporter

One of the most intensive and currently impactful parts of the college admissions process are the ACT and SAT standardized tests. Most U.S. colleges use these scores to consider potential incoming students’ abilities and to offer scholarships. What would happen if colleges deemed them as no longer needed? Over the past few years, many colleges and universities have been switching to “test-optional” schools, meaning that standardized test scores are not required for admission. With the influence of the COVID-19 pandemic, some schools have been pushed to this option, as testing times and sites have been limited. Shawnee State University, being one of these schools, has created the “test-recommended” option for the upcoming academic year of admissions, allowing a new path for potential students.

What does test-optional really mean and how does it affect admissions?

According to College Data, more than 1,200 colleges are now test-optional, with that number growing fast. Test-optional policies vary from college to college, however, the foundational concept between all remains similar. Test-optional schools allow applicants to decide whether they want to take the ACT or SAT and submit their scores. When reviewing applications, the colleges will then focus on other aspects of the student’s application, readjusting what they believe to be important indicators of the applicant’s success in college. The College Board emphasizes that “it doesn’t mean that schools aren’t interested in seeing all applicants’ performance and potential—but if a student doesn’t submit their scores, it won’t be considered in the application review.” 

This doesn’t mean that college admissions will be any easier either. Colleges that are considered selective are likely to still be just as selective in their admissions process as before, putting more emphasis on students’ GPA and extracurricular activities. Furthermore, for many college merit scholarships, they still require standardized test scores or placement tests from the individual college. In a recent survey, “representatives from test-optional colleges and universities reported that, on average, close to 80% of their applicants chose to submit test scores,” according to the College Board, showing that applicants still place value on their own scores.

Going test-optional because of COVID-19 or to address ongoing problems?

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected all aspects of our education system, including admissions. Some colleges have adopted test-optional policies temporarily due to this, but some have made the permanent change. During the pandemic, many ACT and SAT testing dates have been cancelled because of safety concerns. The ACT and SAT Boards have been creating more test dates and opening more sites recently to make up for this, however, for some students it is still too difficult or dangerous to be able to take at least one of the standardized tests.

While this movement toward test-optional policies has been pushed by the pandemic, colleges have been making this transition for years beforehand. For colleges who had previously switched to test-optional, many have done it for diversity and accessibility purposes. University of Chicago, one of the first selective colleges to go test-optional, implemented these policies “to enhance the accessibility of its undergraduate College for first-generation and low-income students.” From this, University of Chicago believes they are now able to address significant barriers for underrepresented students.

According to statistics from the ACT, in 2016, the average score for students from high income families was 23.6, while the average for low income students was 19.5. Most students from higher income, white families, have easier access to “better-resourced high schools and with greater access to private tutoring score better on these tests,” creating an area of inequality, says Alina Tugend from the Hechinger Report. Factors like these have made access to standardized tests difficult for minority groups and those who belong to lower classes. However, not all studies have concluded that moving to test-optional really increases diversity within the student population. 

Addressing socioeconomic disparities and inequalities in connection with standardized testing has been a driving factor for some colleges to change their test admission policies, providing for more opportunities for these students. Only some colleges have become test-optional because of COVID-19, though many are making the change for a more progressive approach. Nonetheless, the pandemic has helped to spark this new trend and it can be expected that more colleges will take this permanent path in the future.

SSU’s Test-Recommended Approach

For the upcoming 2021-2022 academic year, SSU has announced that they are going test-recommended rather than test-optional. With this plan, SSU recommends that students take one of the standardized tests but they “understand that the pandemic has caused difficulties with accessing some testing centers.” Not requiring a SAT or ACT score, SSU mentions that they do use the scores for admission into selective programs and for scholarships. However, they offer a free Accuplacer test to replace the standardized test scores, if you are unable to take the ACT or SAT. “Our goal is to make sure the availability of ACT and SAT is not a barrier to you getting started on your college degree,” SSU says. 

To utilize the test-recommended path, applicants must indicate to the Office of Admission that they do not have a test score, either on their initial application or through the Opt-Out form. Applicants must then schedule and take the Accuplacer placement test to complete their application profile. If, as an applicant, you do not take the Accuplacer test, “the Office of Admission will admit you based on your high school performance,” particularly whether your transcript “reflects an academically rigorous high school curriculum.” For merit-based scholarships, students must have either a SAT/ACT score or an Accuplacer score; there are no exceptions. Selective program admissions depend upon the program specifically and whether scores are needed as determined by the program coordinator. 

More information on Shawnee’s test-recommended option can be found here