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Test Optional Choices for Current High School Juniors and the Need to Differentiate Yourself

During this unnerving time, juniors are wondering whether they should and can take the SAT or ACT test. Many have been prepping for months, only to find out that the test dates have been cancelled and that there are no online test options. In light of this uncertainty, many universities have made bold statements about going test optional–in the last month alone over 50 and counting. It’s of course a multi-pronged approach by universities. Yes, they are trying to help meet the students’ anxiety and needs because neither the SAT nor the ACT have yet added more test dates to the mix. The March and May dates have been cancelled and not everyone will be able to test in June, plus that date could fall through. Many high schools are poorly equipped to teach online and some high school juniors are only getting pass/fail grades. On top of that, university enrollment managers are anxiously scrambling to ensure a robust fall 2020 enrollment. 

black swivel chair beside rectangular brown wooden desk

What is Test Optional? Is there such a thing as Test Blind?

A national nonprofit organization called Fairtest, (https://www.fairtest.org/university/optional), has been advocating for students to provide alternatives to ACT and SAT testing, and lately the numbers of colleges that have joined this movement has multiplied exponentially. Currently over 1,100 colleges and universities in the US have some form of test optional policy. Some still want to see a certain GPA, usually around 3.5, before a student can decide if they need to submit a test score. During the recent virus outbreak and the changes to students’ high school curriculum, more university enrollment admission officers have leapt onto the test optional bandwagon. Some have set limits, i.e. only for 2021 applicants, others have made statements about a three-year test drive. If a student has competitive test scores, they should still submit those in order to differentiate themselves from those who did not submit a test score. 

Consider that most the students who applied to test optional schools during the past five years, still submitted test scores, and only a very small percentage of students were admitted without a test score. Keep in mind that test optional does not mean test blind – only Hampshire College so far is test blind, meaning they will not look at test scores if they are submitted. For the fall 2021 applications, most universities will have to reevaluate their current incoming class, and revisit whether they will loosen the reigns entirely on the testing debacle. The ACT and the CollegeBoard who administers the SAT, have their work cut out for them. ACT is slated to go online in September 2020, but they may move that option up, and the SAT has yet to figure out if their technology is robust enough to offer online testing this year. As a student, you should definitely check out the application requirements of your college list, and visit the growing list of test optional colleges often: https://is.gd/raYcZZ

How to Differentiate Yourself?

If you are a junior, you know how important this years’ grades are for your application. If test optional is the main admission route most students take, you will be applying with more students to your dream colleges. Now we have the double-edge sword. You believe it’s easier to get into your dream college because you don’t need to submit a test score, but you are also competing with many more applicants….some of whom will have taken an early test and will be submitting it. 

Remember you still need to differentiate yourself. Try to show colleges that you’ve not wasted your time, especially if your high school curriculum is not up to par. Consider other online education, Coursera classes (www.coursera.com), online college programs and keep a log of your activities, such as helping around at home, teaching your siblings math or serving as the primary care taker while your parents work from home. What has been true every year is showing that you have matured, taken on responsibility, worked at something. We all know the restrictions on our environment, but keep in mind that there’s a way to do good or help others in need and use this time to create or learn something new. Differentiation is going to be even more important than before.

Posted in Learning Differences
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Kirsten Frosh
Kirsten works with each student providing guidance and individual attention and personally overseeing application content.

Kirsten was fantastic to work with through every step of the daunting task of searching for a college for our son. Her combination of expertise, positivity, and integrity was exactly what was needed. My son felt very comfortable working with her, and he believed that she genuinely cared about what he wanted in a college and what his goals were for the future. She seemed to work tirelessly to provide the most accurate and up-to-date information necessary to navigate the labyrinth of the college application process. Even after applications were finished and acceptances and decision were made, she continued to provide useful information and insight. This has been especially valuable while dealing with the uncertainty during the Coronavirus pandemic. We wouldn't hesitate to work with her again, and we would whole-heartedly recommend her to anyone looking for a thorough, honest, and supportive college specialist. We can't imagine having done this without her!

- James and Toija Fitzgerald