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In the not-so-distant past, the primary factor considered for college admission was a student’s test scores. Specifically, the SAT and the ACT (founded in 1941 and 1959 respectively) have been so ingrained in our educational systems that programs helping students to study for them have become nearly synonymous with “college prep.” However, not everyone agrees that these tests are the purported “gold standard” of college preparedness.

Are the College Admissions Tides Changing?

In recent years, many have sought to change the college admissions process to allow students who may not do well on these standardized tests a fighting chance to get into colleges previously barred to them via low test scores. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the delay or cancellation of many test dates. Now, in this new COVID conscious world, detractors of the old admissions process are finally seeing the change they’ve been looking for in school requirements.

While there have always been schools with “test-optional” admissions, ACT Inc. has reported that between 2014 and 2019, there was an increase of 200 more test-optional schools, bringing the number to 900. But as 2020 rolled around and the coronavirus sent the world into lockdown, the cancellation of testing events resulted in even more colleges going test-optional—even highly selective schools and several of the Ivy Leagues. This helped students to feel more confident applying to their “stretch” schools and even pushed some to apply to schools they never thought they’d have an admissions opportunity.

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Diversity in College Admissions

For years, the argument for abolishing standardized testing has revolved primarily around the fact that many students are at a severe disadvantage in comparison to their peers through circumstances beyond their control. Another major criticism is that these tests are only successful at assessing a student’s ability to test well, not their intelligence. The two critiques meld when you consider that, while there are infinite reasons a student may not test as well as their peers, many are circumstances related to areas of their life where they already experience marginalization. Students with physical or mental disabilities, students who speak English as a second language, and students whose parents are not able to afford to send them to test-prep courses are all more likely to fail in comparison to typically-abled, English-speaking, affluent students.

However, the pandemic seems to have evened out the playing field a bit for students of marginalized backgrounds. With a sudden rise in US colleges waiving their testing requirements, and schools like the University of Chicago creating more scholarship opportunities, school applicants and admissions are growing significantly more diverse. University Vice President and Dean of Admissions James G. Nondorf, spoke to the UChicago Empower Initiative’s success in helping “first generation and low-income students to use technology and other resources to present themselves as well as any other college applicant. We want students to understand the application does not define you—you define the application.”

What Does This Mean for You?

If you’re wondering what to do to help yourself stand out in the college admissions process now that standardized testing is no longer the standard, feel free to contact the experts at CBRG. We can review your academic record and help you understand how elements like personal essays and references from academic professionals may carry more weight in your 2021 college applications.

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