College Pete

Is Test Optional Admissions Over? What This Means For College-Bound Teens

Is Test Optional Admissions Over? What This Means For College-Bound Teens

Earlier this week Dartmouth College, that esteemed Ivy League school located deep in the New Hampshire hinterland, announced that it would end its test-optional admissions policy starting with the incoming Class of 2029 (11th graders – that’s you!).

In their announcement, Dartmouth cited new research linking performance on standardized test scores to performance on campus and improved diversity and equity. We can certainly debate the merits of those findings — and I’m sure many scholars will — but that will not change how this announcement will alter the college admissions experience for your college bound teen. Yes, I do expect many other schools to follow Dartmouth’s lead.

Research aside, Dartmouth’s decision is at least partly a pragmatic response to what ‘test optional’ has done to Admissions offices… namely, overwhelmed them with nearly indistinguishable applicants. The test-less movement enticed students with strong grades and extra-curriculars but perceivably sub-par scores to throw in their application to, say, Dartmouth, believing they had a chance  despite their lower than average scores. Multiply this by several thousand and we understand the unbelievable surge in the volume of applications. 

This increase in applicants was a welcome and intended consequence of the schools’ boards of directors (the more applicants, the more selective the school appears, the higher the ranking). We’ve been tracking and writing about the Test Optional movement for years. Not being able to fairly or efficiently evaluate applicants without the additional benefit of a universal metric (like a test score) was an unintended one. Admissions offices have not been properly equipped to manage the deluge. (See also my article about high number of deferred applicants)

Fact is, standardized testing has always been critical to the admissions process. Most ‘test optional’ schools still invited students to submit scores, in fact they encouraged students with scores above the school’s average to submit them (test scores, like the above-mentioned selectivity, factor into a school’s ranking). 

I’m sure the folks at the College Board and the ACT were popping the champagne at this recent announcement. If the College Board were a publicly traded company (instead of a very wealthy nonprofit) their stock price would have blown through the roof on Monday. I expect that more schools will follow Dartmouth’s lead and make similar announcements in the weeks ahead, especially if they buy into the research that the testing requirement can lead to more campus diversity in a post-Affirmative Action world. We would expect these announcements soon, as the Class of 2029 is about to enter the heart of their heaviest academic lifting period and testing cycle.

What would keep schools from quickly following Dartmouth’s lead is the school’s need to balance their desire for more applicants with the practicality of requiring a standardized test score in evaluating otherwise similar applicants.

Notably, there were hundreds of schools that adopted test-optional admissions policies well before Covid necessitated it. I expect these schools will remain test-optional well into the future and include many of the smaller liberal arts schools, but also major universities like University of Chicago, George Washington University, Wake Forest and American University. The University of California System went beyond test optional to go test blind – they don’t consider test scores at all in their admission decisions, a policy that is likely to remain for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, in Florida, the state schools have always required test scores and will continue to do so.

Clearly, if you are in 11th grade or younger (or the parent who loves one of these bright young scholars), it’s time to prepare for a new reality where testing will be required once again at many of the schools that dropped the requirement during Covid. Your test scores will (at least should) help inform your admissions and funding strategies. A strong relative test score can not only benefit your admissions chances, but it can also lead directly to institutional merit scholarship dollars. You’ll need to have a good testing strategy, which involves knowing which test to take, when, if/when to take it again as well as ensure that you have the right preparation and tutoring.

Just another thing to add to your college preparation list! To that point, I’m going to be hosting a webinar with Admissions representatives from a cross-section schools that both require test scores and those that don’t. We will be discussing a number of topics including how Admissions officers utilize test scores (or don’t) in their evaluation of an applicant. The program will be in mid-March and will have limited ‘seating’, so stay tuned for your invite.

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