Rumors Abound: ACT/SAT Testing-Optional Policies during COVID-19 Crisis

Over the past weeks, many speculations have circulated as to the role of the ACT and SAT in the upcoming application cycle for the high school Class of 2021 (current juniors). Will the ACT & SAT still be required by colleges given the recent test date cancellations?

Let’s investigate some of these rumors.

Rumor #1: Colleges are now going to eliminate the ACT & SAT requirement for the 2020-2021 application cycle (for students that are currently juniors). 

Reality Check: Currently, much remains uncertain, but there is no sweeping elimination of the ACT and SAT admissions requirement by colleges.

As of now, the ACT and the SAT are still scheduled to be offered in June. If the crisis extends into late spring and the June test date is also cancelled, most likely we will see colleges make adjustments to their application requirements for the Class of 2021. 

Some schools, however, are not waiting to see if the June Test Dates are cancelled. A few colleges and universities, such as Case Western (temporarily test-optional for 2021 class), Tufts University (temporarily test-optional for next 3 years), and Oregon State schools (changed their policy to be test optional overall), have decided to suspend the ACT/SAT test requirement. 

Rumor #2: The ACT & the SAT don’t “count” this year.  

Reality Check: Please do not confuse the cancellation of state testing requirements with the overall cancellation of SAT or ACT for college admissions.

The US Education Department waived federal requirements for state testing for K-12 students due to school shutdowns. This means US students will not have to take this year’s annual state tests, which are administered each spring. 

About 50% of states utilize the SAT or ACT in-school for their federal testing requirements, while the other half use the Smarter Balanced test or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). Here, in sunny California, we use the Smarter Balanced test. 

The Education Department cancelling the in-school state testing has no direct effect on taking the ACT or SAT for college admissions requirements.

Rumor #3: Colleges going test optional means that students shouldn’t take the ACT or the SAT.

Reality Check: Even if you are applying to a school that has a testing optional policy, having a good score on the ACT & the SAT can still impact your application, especially when applying to competitive colleges.

If a school adopts the test optional policy, then applicants will not submit lower scores, which means overall the average of applicants’ ACT & SAT scores will go up. What this means: for students who have a good GPA, extracurriculars, and no apparent socioeconomic disadvantages, they will need a higher ACT/SAT score to stand out from other similar applicants.

Universities will also most likely still utilize ACT/SAT scores when evaluating students for Merit-Based Scholarships. Additionally, test scores will most likely still be required for specialized programs like Pre-Med and Engineering majors, and if the school itself goes test optional, then the average test scores will be even higher for these programs.

The novel COVID-19 crisis is impacting nearly every aspect of our world, including the role of the ACT and the SAT within college admissions policies. Unfortunately, it is too early to fully know the full extent of this impact. 

We will continue to update you as we find out more information about these topics.

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