To Test or Not to Test?

The college application process is stressful in the best of times, but throw in changes due to COVID-19 and the situation becomes murkier for students, parents and institutions alike.

In deference to a large number of students that will not be able to sit for the SAT or ACT this fall, many colleges and universities have announced that they are going “test-optional.” According to an online report in Money magazine“over 60% of U.S. four-year colleges and universities will not require applicants to submit the standardized test scores to be considered for admission to the class of fall 2021. This list includes a number of elite private colleges (e.g. Duke, Brown, and Yale) as well as large state systems (e.g. California and New York).”

While that might be good news for nervous test-takers, it’s not as clear as you’d think. “Unless a college has specifically declared itself test-blind, it’ll often still weigh scores students voluntarily send in,” explains Julia Glum in her Money article. For competitive schools with many more applicants than openings, the added information from standardized tests may tip the balance in favor of students with strong scores.

That leaves students to decide whether or not to go to test sites and risk possible COVID-19 exposure, the situation that motivated colleges to drop their testing requirements in the first place. “Though roughly 520 institutions have signed onto an open letter affirming that ‘they will not penalize students for the absence of a standardized test score,’” writes Glum, “there’s still a lot of anguish among applicants.”

Safety First

As quoted in the Money article Jayne Caflin Fonash, president of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, suggests students prioritize their health at this critical time: “I know it’s frightening … you’ve been told it’s important [your whole life], but all of a sudden this pandemic pulls the rug out from under that and the entire playbook is different,” she says. “All of us would encourage students never to put themselves in a situation where their health would be compromised just to take a standardized test.”

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