To Send Test Scores, or not to Send Test Scores – That is the Question.
by Kathy de Jong, Independent Educational Consultant
As the high school class of 2021 start their college application process, many are struggling to get SAT and ACT exam scores because of test date cancellations due to COVID-19. Some students are lucky to have one score from early in their junior year; others don’t have any. What is an anxious, prospective college student to do if they don’t have a test score to submit to a college that reflects their best effort?
Through my college admissions chat groups and message boards, I’m stunned (not really) to hear stories of students flying to test sites across the country to take an SAT or ACT exam. We have to ask ourselves: why? Is this one score going to make a difference in whether a student gets into college, and is it worth the financial burden and health risks to get it?
First, let’s look at the numbers. The organization FairTest.org has been at the forefront of the movement to reduce the use of standardized tests in the college admissions process for decades. FairTest contends that standardized testing is not the best indicator of student success in their freshman year of colleges, and should not be a requirement for admission consideration. FairTest has compiled a list of test-optional, test-flexible, and test-blind colleges and universities for years, and offers these statistics on the current standardized testing landscape for 2021. (Sept. 2020).
Percent of bachelor degree-granting colleges/universities that are test-optional for 2021 admission cycle: 66% and rising
The number of bachelor degree-granting colleges/universities not requiring standardized testing: 1,570 and rising.
Percentage of most-selective private liberal arts colleges and public universities not requiring standardized tests: 90%
The number of test-blind colleges (won’t look at the test score even if you send it. Scores are not considered in admissions decisions). 59
So what do we make of that information? First, for the Class of 2021, it means don’t panic about not having a test score or a score less than your target test score. Here is a list of 800+ “top-tier” colleges and universities (according to US News and World Report) that have de-emphasized the use of standardized tests for 2021. I could make a case there is a college on that list for everyone.
At this point in the application season, seniors should have a good idea about where they would like to apply. What’s difficult for the students this year is evaluating whether they have a balanced college list and whether to submit any scores they’ve received. Balanced refers to the likelihood of a student getting into any one institution and making sure their list includes likely, match, and reach colleges. In past years, comparing a student’s GPA and test scores to the middle 50% of the admitted students at a college would be a reasonably good indicator (not a certainty) of the likelihood of being accepted. That’s going to be a little more difficult this year if a student doesn’t have any test scores. As for whether to submit scores or not, here is a guideline (not a recommendation)…If the student’s score is above the midpoint for a college, send them. If they are below the 25th percentile, don’t send them, and if they are between the 25th-50th percentile, decide if the rest of your application is strong enough to stand alone. If the test scores give you a boost, send them. Consult with a school counselor or local Independent Educational Consultant if you need help deciding.
For some students, scheduling an additional test date may make sense. Each college should, by now, have posted their testing requirements on their website. If students feel like most, if not all, of the colleges on their list are “likely” or “match” colleges, AND those colleges are test-optional, then additional testing is just a personal decision, not a requirement. While each student’s situation is different, here are a few scenarios when college applicants may want to consider registering for a future test date and continuing a test prep schedule:
- A student’s first or second choice college continues to require standardized testing for fall 2021 admission.
- The student is interested in a very competitive program, such as engineering, which requires test scores or where a good test score can help a student be competitive in the applicant pool.
- A college on the student’s list still requires test scores for merit-aid, which is needed for the student to attend.
- A college on the student’s list is a “reach” and test-optional, but based on practice tests or other indicators, the student believes they could score above the 50th percentile mark for accepted applicants.
- The student did not do well in 11th grade and had a lower than expected GPA. Good test scores could be advantageous to this student if the scores are above the college’s average test score for accepted students.
- The student is interested in outside scholarships that continue to require test scores.
So, the bottom line is that for many 2021 applicants, they can put together an entirely test-optional/test-blind college list. If that is the case, additional test prep and all of the anxiety that comes with it are probably not required. However, some students may have a legitimate reason to continue to pursue testing.
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