More colleges are moving to ‘test-optional’ admission policies

Updated: Aug. 23, 2019 at 8:09 AM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Most high school seniors planning to head to college will take the ACT or SAT, but many colleges and universities now want to get to know applicants beyond a single number.

There’s a growing list of colleges moving to a “test-optional” admissions policy. At least three have already hopped on board this year, and now there are more than 1,000 accredited colleges and universities that have changed their approach to standardized test scores.

A test-optional policy leaves the decision up to the applicant as to whether or not you want to send SAT or ACT scores to a school. In other words, test-optional colleges do not require you to send your scores.

Christopher Parsons with the College Planning Center says a major benefit of this test-optional policy for students is it provides more choice and control over how you can present your strengths, academic ability and potential to the admissions board. It also takes the pressure off students who may have test anxiety and other factors that contribute to not performing well on standardized tests.

For colleges, it opens up the pool of students to choose from. The idea is that the admissions board will look at applications more holistically - placing more emphasis on potential students’ grades in core classes, letters of recommendation and personal statements. Research also shows test-optional admission institutions draw in a more diverse student population.

But Parsons says although this is a good thing for students and universities, there could be some downfalls.

“How do schools judge? One student who has grades at a school in South Carolina versus a student who has similar grades to a student in California. Are they the same rigor classes, are the same difficulty? So it will become pretty subjective," said Parsons.

The University of Chicago made headlines last year when it announced it was going test-optional to encourage more first generation and low income students to apply. Some universities that have already adopted the policy says it helps students who didn’t have the advantage of going to a private school or a school with test-prep built into the curriculum. This leaves it up to the students who choose not to send in their scores to put in the extra effort to individualize themselves and stand out in the application pool.

Although more schools are following this trend and adopting the test-optional admissions policy, many are still not convinced yet the SAT and ACT are going away anytime soon.

“I think it’s a good thing because you can still turn test scores. Just because the school is test-optional doesn’t mean you don’t turn test scores in. If your scores are good enough, you can still turn them in. So I think this still opens the door to some students who might never have the opportunity for certain schools,” said Parsons.

Parsons says he still recommends high school students take the SAT or ACT so you can weigh out the options after.

He also has some advice for students in the process of applying to colleges.

“Spend the time now to really do your fact finding and research to find out what school is right for you. Don’t fall into a school. We tell kids all the time, choosing the school is one of the most important decisions you’re going to make. Don’t leave that up to chance or just schools you’ve heard of," said Parsons.

If you’re considering a test-optional college, Parsons says to highlight the things in your application that you think make you stand out. He added students should make sure they are still taking the tough classes, and make sure to push themselves outside of their comfort zone.

Right now, the University of South Carolina, Clemson University and Coastal Carolina University are all not test- optional schools and still require SAT or ACT test scores in the application process.

However, CCU tells WMBF News:

“CCU officials have been following the list of colleges who have implemented test-optional admissions policies; especially regional public universities. Right now, CCU is researching best practices regarding test-optional policies and working with the faculty to determine if a test-optional admissions policy would benefit both potential applicants and the University.”

The next SAT will be held Aug. 24 and the PSAT will be offered in October.

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