After coronavirus, experts say SAT, ACT could be 'thing of the past' for college admissions

Posted at 6:00 PM, Jun 30, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-30 23:34:08-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The list of colleges and universities not requiring prospective students to submit standardized test scores next year continues to grow.

Harvard, Duke, Stanford, Princeton and Northwestern universities are among some of the top institutions to announce they will go test-optional for the upcoming admissions cycle, after the coronavirus pandemic canceled and disrupted testing dates in the spring and summer.

“The SATs and ACTs are no longer going to be a reliable measurement for what it takes to get into selective places or even less selective places,” James Heryer, an educational consultant, said.

Formerly the director of college guidance and standardized testing at The Sunset Hill School in Kansas City, Missouri, Heryer said the pandemic has forced many colleges to reevaluate the significance and emphasis of standardized testing.

Coronavirus Cancels Tests
Sam Butler is a rising senior at Olathe West High School. On top of balancing football practice and with his school work, he has been preparing to take standardized tests to apply to colleges.

The coronavirus has created one complication after another for seniors like Butler, who would like to take part in the 2021 admissions season.

“You get kind of anxious for the test and you’re studying for it," Butler said. "All of the sudden you can’t take it."

In April, his ACT test was canceled due to the pandemic. Two months, later the June test Butler signed up for also was canceled.

The College Board, which administers the SAT, requested in a statement released in June that colleges and universities “provide flexibility” to students in three ways:

  • Accepting scores as late as possible in the admissions process, including extending score deadlines for early action and early decision applicants.
  • Equally consider students for admission who are unable to take the exam due to COVID-19 as those who submitted scores.
  • Recognize that students who do submit scores may not have been able to take the test more than once.

Butler has only taken the ACT test once.

“It’s been difficult to narrow down my college choices with only having a very raw score taking it early in sophomore year,” he said.

Ideally, he said he would like to take it multiple times before finishing his applications.

“Trying to narrow down if I want to go to a very academically prestigious school, I will need to know that I can have a score to get in or it’s not even worth my time to look at that school," Butler said.

Shift to Make Admissions Process Permanently Test-Optional
In the wake of the pandemic, many schools have announced they will either go test-optional or test blind for the upcoming admission year. Other universities announced such changes would be permanent.

In May, the University of California school system voted to permanently phase out the ACT and SAT as requirements to apply to its 10 schools.

“The fact that that system has done it I think will be a major catalyst for a lot of systems kind of jumping on that bandwagon,” Heryer said.

How Test-Optional Impacts Admissions
One year ago, before the pandemic, Rockhurst University announced it was changing its admissions process. The college now uses a test-optional process where students can choose whether or not to submit their test scores.

“We go in-depth into the transcript and look specifically at grade trends and where their strengths are and weaknesses are," said Paula Shorter, associate provost for enrollment services at Rockhurst University. "We look at writing samples and recommendation letters, service."

Since its policy change, Shorter said the university has increased the number of underrepresented students by 62 percent when comparing the admit pool of fall 2019 to fall 2020.

“There are obstacles in place because of standardized tests,” Shorter said. “Not being able to take the test multiple times. Not being able to pay for expensive test preparations. Those are all eliminated when you go test-optional.”

She believes the pandemic is pushing other universities and colleges to have conversations Rockhurst had last year, potentially fast-tracking changes to the admissions process.

“I think a lot of schools are moving towards it very quickly right now because of the pandemic,” Shorter said. “They probably were considering it to some extent before this happened, and it just expedited the need to move that direction. I think in the end when they find themselves being a test-optional school they will be glad they got there.”

Making College Applications Stand Out
While the coronavirus has impacted standardized tests and the ability for students to visit campuses, college counselors suggest that students should use the pandemic to their advantage in the application process.

Students can write about the pandemic and how they overcame challenges, such as not being able to take the ACT or SAT, in their college-application essays.

They also can use the pandemic to illustrate volunteer work or community outreach they’ve been a part of.

Schools are “going to have to shift to a more holistic, and I think, humanistic approach to evaluating applications,” Heryer said.