Things are changing rapidly in the college admissions landscape as the coronavirus continues to cause havoc in the economy and our daily lives. Colleges are in a tough position – they are trying to finalize their incoming class for fall, recruit for next year, and deal with changes in curriculum all while not being able to host prospective students. Additionally, with the cancelation of recent standardized tests, it presents another potential obstacle for them. So, with all that, what’s going on with testing and admissions?
There have been some immediate reactions. A small number of schools have announced that they will become test optional going forward, citing the virus as the impetus for a change they were considering. Note that this number is small because going test optional is a MAJOR change for schools, and not something that can be implemented in a couple of weeks. These schools had been considering or preparing for an extended period of time, so we don’t expect them to be followed by a huge number of other schools in the near term.
Many other schools have announced being “test optional for next year” or a “1 year suspension in test requirements”. Both of these amount to the same thing – schools are easing requirements to try and ensure they get enough qualified applicants. They most like are playing a bit of a wait-and-see game, and may revert to their historical admission requirements next year, or some further modification of them based on conditions of public health and the economy.
Based on this, it certainly seems like the tests are becoming less important. But why aren’t all schools test optional all the time, or even just completely doing away with standardized tests? The problem schools have, backed by incredibly extensive research, is that far and away the best predictor of success in college is the COMBINATION of high school GPA and standardized test scores. On their own both are decent predictors, but the combination gives much more confidence to schools, and rightly so.
It’s clear for a number of high school districts the remainder of the year for sophomores and juniors will be canceled or extremely watered down. Some schools are moving to pass/fail, and only a small number of schools (mostly private) are still full-on with their regular curriculum. This is going to be a real problem for colleges, as GPA will be measurably less predictive for this cohort.
Due to this, for students applying to moderately to extremely competitive colleges, having a strong test score may actually be even more important than before. Imagine you are an admissions officer at a competitive college. You have two students who attended competitive public schools in different states that were largely shut down the last 3 months of the students’ junior years. Both have high GPAs and good extracurriculars, but one has an SAT score in line with historical norms for the college and the other didn’t submit a score. Who would you lean towards?
At the end of the day, nobody knows exactly how things will shake out over the next year. However, having a strong test score in the pocket is excellent insurance for a student – it’s absolutely not going to hurt them, and may be the difference in a competitive situation in getting an acceptance or a rejection letter. With extra time on their hands right now, it’s a great time for students to work on earning that strong test score and being ready for anything.