On March 8, Inside Higher Ed reported that through February 15, only 44% of students who applied to college with the Common Application had submitted ACT or SAT scores. In contrast, 77% of Common App users submitted test scores last year.
As discussed in a previous blog post, the pandemic resulted in the cancellation of several ACT and SAT test administrations last spring and summer, which led more colleges than ever before to become test-optional, at least for the Class of 2021. Several of those colleges have recently announced that they will be extending their test-optional policies for the Class of 2022, if not further. Additionally, a significant number of colleges that became test-optional in 2020 did so permanently.
So, what does the future look like in terms of the test-optional movement? Bob Schaeffer is the executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a.k.a FairTest, an organization that advocates for decreased use of standardizes tests in the college admissions process. In a presentation last week to College Consultants of Colorado (of which I am a member), Schaeffer shared the following data:
- Test-optional policies were increasing in popularity even before the pandemic. There were 51 new test-optional colleges in 2019, and from 2015 through early 2020, 175 colleges became test-optional. As of March 10, 2020, 1,070 accredited four-year colleges in the U.S. were test-optional.
- In response to COVID-19, over 600 more colleges became test-optional, bringing the total to 1,690 schools with test-optional policies for Fall 2021 applicants. That represents nearly 75% of all American four-year colleges.
- In the fall of 2020, over 550 college admissions leaders signed the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s “Test Optional Means Test-Optional” statement, which assured students that they would not be at a disadvantage in the admissions process if they didn’t submit test scores.
- 1,365 college have already announced test-optional, test-flexible, or test-blind policies for Fall 2022 admission.
Several private colleges in Colorado are among those that will be test-optional for the upcoming admissions cycle. However, state law requires Colorado’s public colleges to use test scores among their criteria for admission. Last year, Colorado passed a law that allowed a temporary waiver of this requirement for Fall 2021 applicants. There is currently a bill in the state legislature that would enable our state’s public colleges to become test-optional permanently. If you’d like to contact your legislators to ask them to support this bill, you can do so here.
Schaeffer explained that the rise of test-optional colleges has been good for both students and colleges. It’s fairly obvious how students benefit from test-optional policies, but there are also advantages for colleges. Schaeffer said data from 28 test-optional schools showed that test-optional policies led to an increase in applicants, as well as greater diversity among applicants (including more underrepresented minorities and low-income students). Additionally, the graduation rates of students who did not submit scores were as good as or better than those who did.
Schaeffer said he thinks more colleges will extend their test-optional policies and that ultimately, the majority of U.S. colleges will be test-optional. As a result, although the ACT and SAT will not disappear completely, they will become much less important in the admissions process.
As stressful and competitive as the college admissions process is these days, it will surely be a welcome relief for students to have one major source of that stress — standardized tests — removed.