The College Guy: Don’t worry if you haven’t taken your SATs

For the Monitor
Published: 9/1/2020 3:01:10 PM

Question: I’ve heard that many colleges and universities will not require standardized tests (SAT/ACT) this year? Do they really mean it or will my daughter be disadvantaged if she doesn’t submit tests?

Answer: You have heard right — the 2020-21 college admission cycle will be like no other! A global pandemic has accelerated what was a growing movement away from reliance on standardized testing in application review. Since March, when COVID-19 began to disrupt so many aspects of our lives, most students have been unable to take the SAT or ACT. The majority of applicants experienced canceled tests and a roller coaster of registering for summer test administrations, only to have them called off at the last minute (in some cases on the morning of the test). In fact, the SAT was to be offered at many test centers this past weekend and a large number of students were notified last week that it would not take place.

The University of New Hampshire was already ahead of the COVID-19 curve, removing its testing requirement for admission in the spring of 2019. At that time, director of admission, Rob McGann, explained that “the data consistently shows that grades earned in high school over four years bear a much greater relationship to how well a student will do in college than standardized test scores do.”

Over the past decade, many schools have acknowledged this reality, as well as the inequity of standardized testing. The pandemic made it more pronounced, leading institutions to relinquish the testing mandate – from the most selective colleges and universities in the country (Ivy League schools and others with single-digit admit rates) to large state universities that had long relied on the SAT and ACT to make admission decisions.

FairTest,a national advocacy organization that seeks to “end the misuses and flaws of testing practices” maintains a list of colleges and universities that are ACT/SAT- optional. Last week, they reported that 66% of all accredited, 4-year institutions of higher education have adopted test-optional policies for fall of 2021 admission, and predicted that many more will follow. Soon after their announcement, the University of Georgia system (26 schools, including Georgia Tech and Georgia State) decided to remove test score requirements for this coming year. The NCAA also waived the testing requirement for eligibility to compete in college athletics in all divisions.

In addition, over 530 colleges and universities have signed a statement from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) affirming that they “will not penalize students for the absence of a standardized test score.”

Admission leaders write, “together, we strongly endorse a student-centered, holistic approach to admission that will not disadvantage any student without a test score.”

The question on many families’ minds is, “Does optional REALLY mean optional?” The answer is an emphatic yes.

This summer, I have been discussing the intricacies of these policies with admission leaders throughout the country, and every school that has adopted optional test policies is committed to reviewing candidates equally, with or without test scores. One Ivy League dean explained to me that they are training their admission staff to read applications “expecting not to see scores.” Other schools like the California Institute of Technology have chosen to be “test blind,” meaning they will not consider test scores even when submitted.

Make sure you visit each school’s admission website to be clear on their specific requirements and expectations and work closely with your school counselor to build a college list that is appropriate for you. Fear not, college-bound students, admission leaders realize the challenges and limitations that the pandemic has introduced. Focus on what you can control – working hard in your courses and staying engaged in your learning. You will not be disadvantaged by an inability to take standardized tests. Be gentle on yourselves, stay healthy, and take care of those around you with kindness and understanding.

Do you have a question about college admission, the impact of the pandemic, and applications? Submit them to with “College Guy” in the subject line.

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>pa 3<>italic<Brennan Barnard of Hopkinton is the director of college counseling and outreach at The Derryfield School and the college admission program advisor at The Making Caring Common project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is co-author of the book, “The Truth about College Admission: A Family Guide to Getting In and Staying Together.”>res 1<

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