Why Test-optional May Be the Future of College Admissions Post-Pandemic



Many schools, especially outside of Florida, decided that for the 2020-2021 college admissions cycle and even the 2021-2022 that applicants were not required to send SAT/ACT scores.

Cynthia Schneider, Research Editor

During this year’s college application cycle, many colleges around the country went test-optional. This means that these colleges gave students the option of sending their SAT or ACT scores or not because of the lack of opportunities for testing that many students experienced as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Florida had many testing sites open for the summer and fall, many other states did not, and to address this disparity in access, colleges decided to waive the test for those who either couldn’t take the test or felt that it wasn’t a good representation of their ability because of the lack of testing options. Next year’s cycle will also see many of these same top colleges go test-optional, and it seems that these colleges are finally starting to see the waning importance of these standardized tests.

There are already many arguments against the SAT and ACT, like how many experts believe that GPA was a better predictor of success in college than the SAT. There is also a big disparity in SAT and ACT scores between the affluent and lower socioeconomic communities, so these standardized tests intended to measure your level of possible success in college are always measuring your socioeconomic environment. With the rise of SAT and ACT prep courses and materials, it may seem like there is an even wider gap between the rich and the average high school student. The decision of going test-optional for many of the top 40 colleges in the US caused an unprecedented increase in applications and many students who went test-optional were accepted into these colleges. Even though applicants’ chances of admission are slightly lower for those who decide not to send their scores, many students were accepted without test scores. The University of Pennsylvania’s early decision class had 38% of its applicants and 24% of the admitted students go test-optional. Another benefit to going test-optional is less stress over these standardized tests gives students more time to focus on their schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Also, these students who did not send scores are more likely to attend the school (higher yield), and there is an increase in African-American and Latino students when a test-optional policy is used. 

Despite these advantages of the test-optional policy for colleges, there are valid arguments for keeping the SAT and ACT as requirements for the college application process. For instance, students have a less likely chance of getting accepted into the same college than someone who did send scores, but that is because those students sending scores usually have well-above-average scores. The students that did not send scores also had lower, on average, grades. Moreover, the ACT or SAT exams have acted as national standards for testing in America for decades and are one of the few equalizing factors that can compare people from widely different regions, schools, and backgrounds. This standard is a very important part of why these tests have lasted so long, but in this application cycle, it is clear that admissions officers are still able to evaluate students based on all the other sections of the application while also further diversifying their incoming class.

The College Board has what some would call a monopoly over the college application process. They control the SAT, AP classes, PSAT, CSS profile (other financial aid profiles that many top/out-of-state colleges require), and more, and all these tests and forms have a price tag attached to them. Florida funds all AP exams and offers fee waivers for a few SAT exams, but to all the other students the cost of prep, tests, forms, and sending scores all adds up and can be in the hundreds to thousands of dollars. I believe in diminishing the importance of the SAT and ACT, students and admissions officers can focus more on academic rigor and personal qualities when choosing applicants rather than an SAT or ACT score. However, many scholarships, like Bright Futures, still require scores. Now, some colleges have already decided to go test-optional permanently, so college admissions officers agree that the SAT and ACT are not, and should not, be everything.