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Do You NEED to Take the SAT?

By Robert LeVine

The high school class of 2021 faced unforeseen challenges with COVID-19. Month after month, SAT’s, ACT’s and subject tests were cancelled, often without prior notice. As a result of health issues as well as social issues, most U.S. universities went “test optional” in the admissions applications, not requiring standardized testing.

However, many of those schools announced that the change would be for this year’s admissions class only. If you are in the high school class of 2022, will you need to take standardized tests?

No, and yes.

Although our colleges have not yet decided on next year’s admissions requirements, at UCA we anticipate that many schools will remain test optional. It is good business for them, as “test optional” typically increases applications by roughly 30 percent. Nevertheless, for you, taking standardized tests may still be the best strategy.

First, let’s distinguish between “test optional” and “test blind.” When a school says “optional,” it means “not required.” It does not necessarily mean that the school will not consider test scores submitted by other applicants. In fact, even this year, many scholarship and honors program opportunities remained contingent upon evaluation of test scores … even at “test optional” schools.

Certain colleges, however, went “test blind.” That term means something entirely different than “test optional.” For test-blind schools, they will not consider any scores submitted by any applicants. Essentially, “test blind” universities act as if their applications have no place whatsoever to insert test scores.

We don’t think that “test blind” will be a popular trend among U.S. schools.

A few months ago, I interviewed over a dozen admissions professionals, from deans to supervisors and representatives and officers and even student volunteers. Every one of those who had evaluated applications over the years seemed to sigh from melancholy regret. They were accustomed to using test scores in their holistic application evaluations, and since standardized tests were the only universal data set, they worried that high school transcripts, lists of honors and activities, and essays would not be enough for a complete admissions evaluation. More than one of the admissions professionals I spoke with bemoaned how they would have to place undue emphasis on admissions essays.

Besides, they said, it’s not like they don’t know which applicants are first-generation or low socio-economic candidates. They can tell your situation from the rest of the application, and for years, they have been taking different opportunities into account when evaluating prospective students. Most people in admissions offices consider themselves community builders, and access to exceptional education is something they want for everyone. They believe in diversity on their campuses.

When test scores are not considered, extra emphasis must necessarily be placed on school grades when evaluating academic potential. For those who simply do not test well (in real life, not as an excuse for lazy test preparation), omitting test scores can be a good strategy.

But in our experience, only a minority of strong candidates falls into the “poor test-taker” category.

The truth is this: an application is an opportunity to impress an admissions officer. Each piece of the application provides a chance for a candidate to look good. If you skip the testing opportunity, you are limiting your chances to impress someone who might hold your future in their hands.

What does UCA recommend?

If you can prepare for SAT or ACT, and if you can safely take the test, then make the effort and take the test. If your score is not what you wanted, you can retake the test. Try to get your best possible score (but realize that, after three attempts, the likelihood of a great result is small). However, if you cannot achieve a score that fairly reflects your academic brilliance, consider applying without test scores (if the school allows). Also, remember that you may provide test results to some colleges, but not others.

Of course, if you can achieve perfect or near-perfect test results, you are in the running for the greatest universities in the world.

Basically, try to get your score on either SAT or ACT and decide whether to report after you get your results. Just remember that high test scores do not guarantee admissions success. They can be part of a brilliant overall presentation, but without strong extracurricular activities and compelling admissions essays and interviews, superior test scores by themselves simply will not launch you into the Ivy League or other top colleges.

Robert LeVine is the founder and CEO of University Consultants of America, an independent educational consultancy assisting students around the world with applications to colleges, universities and graduate schools. For more information, call University Consultants of America, Inc. at 1-800-465-5890 or visit www.universitycoa.com

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