In particular, making the SAT or ACT optional or scrapping the use of standardized test scores entirely is supposed to help diversify student bodies.
When Harvard University announced these tests would be optional during the pandemic and then extended that policy through 2026, it meant qualified kids afraid of their scores might now apply, according to one education expert.
Smerconish made the point that kids who spend all their time in test prep could learn an instrument instead. Although there’s also the possibility they’d flip through TikTok.
Why MIT is bringing tests back
Schmill admits the SAT and ACT are imperfect tests but argues that since they are available in most communities, not requiring test scores “tends to raise socioeconomic barriers.”
MIT is a special case, Schmill argued, since it requires so much math and science from every student. The testing helps demonstrate ability in those areas.
The school will still take a holistic approach to every applicant, looking at grades, test scores and life experience — although Schmill also suggested there’s quite a bit of grade inflation going on out there. More on that later.
He also included this line to appease stressed-out college students (emphasis his): “you are not your test scores, and for that matter, you are also not your MIT application, either.”
MIT is bucking the trend
The week before hyper-selective MIT announced its decision, the massive California State University System — which has nearly 129,000 graduates each year, compared with MIT, which awards fewer than 4,000 degrees — said it would ditch its SAT/ACT admissions requirements.
UC data suggested testing helps diversity
But UC does have the data that tells it the hated standardized tests are better than high school grades at predicting how undergraduates will perform at the school.
To Schmill’s point about availability and access to alternative tests, the UC system abandoned, for now, its own effort to develop an alternative test.
I reached out to the UC Office of the President to ask about MIT’s decision and UC’s experience with not taking test scores into account. A spokesman declined an in-depth interview since there is not sufficient data and told me it was too early to draw any conclusions.
“It would also be difficult to separate trends in student success outcomes from the pandemic’s impact,” the spokesman wrote in an email. “We continue to assess the impact of our test-free policy and our campuses are currently in the process of making admissions offers to a diverse, accomplished, and hardworking cohort of students for the fall 2022 academic term.”
What does all this mean for college applicants?
I reached out to Mimi Doe, one of the co-founders of Top Tier Admissions, which admittedly caters to students who have the resources to pay for extra help applying to college.
But Doe said her advice to all students going to college, regardless of their background, is to start early and to take the SAT and ACT seriously.
Here are some interesting things I took away from our conversation.
Test-blind is different than test-optional. Doe: Georgetown for instance, was test optional — wink wink. Of their accepted students, only 7% did not submit scores.
Grade inflation is real. Doe: I have done this work for 20 years and I look at high school profiles … you are seeing now half the class has straight A’s.
There are more applicants than ever. The first reason, she said, is that more Common Applications and fewer required essays have made it easy to apply to many schools. But the move from testing has flooded the zone.
Doe: The second reason is score optional. Baby, it’s a free-for-all. Every kid who’s No. 1 in their class, or who’s No. 100 in their class out of 100, is going to apply to Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Dartmouth, all these dream schools, because scores don’t matter. I got to give it a shot.
Colleges are looking for different things. Doe: They’re looking for kids who go above and beyond around social justice issues and making their own communities better … they don’t want robots who just take 13 APs to get into college … it’s a qualitative and quantitative shift in college admissions.
Students shouldn’t suffer through activities they think will be attractive to colleges. Doe: Do what you love… We give kids permission to be authentic around their genuine interests, to understand where to spend their time, and to strip away the noise.
Tests are a bummer. But they’re not gone yet for top students. Doe: I believe (the SAT/ACT are) a colossal waste of a student’s time and energy. That said, it’s still a data point in admissions and has been in the past two years during Covid. So it’s a fact of life if you’re aiming for very top colleges.