Is ACT and SAT Testing Required?
By Joe Messinger, CFP®
October 31, 2019
The world of college admissions is ever changing. Recent negative headlines like the Operation Varsity Blues admission scandal has shown a light on a problem with ACT and SAT testing–often the ones with the money benefit the most. The standardized tests which were originally created to even the playing field among college applicants may not be doing that job. There is a growing movement of colleges that are not requiring ACT or SAT test scores for admittance–at all.
The National Center for Fair and Open Testing is a non-profit that monitors this list of colleges with the purpose of leveling the playing field for all students in college admissions. Each year the number of colleges that do not use ACT or SAT exam scores to admit students is growing by the hundreds.
Most recently, the University of California family of colleges (UCLA, Berkley, etc.) are studying whether they will drop the exam requirement. That decision could have a huge impact on the ACT and SAT companies. UCLA alone received 135,000 applications for Fall 2019. That’s a lot of students possibly NOT taking a standardized test.
Colleges are growing increasingly fond of this option.
Colleges claim that they are making admission more accessible to everyone and that they are leveling the playing field, and they are to a However, the students withholding test scores probably scored lower than the ones who did submit scores. The result is an overall higher average exam score for that college’s admitted students. In addition, colleges that do not require test scores see a significant increase in the number of applicants. The result of higher average exam scores and increased numbers of applicants is higher scores in those national rankings that are so competitive.
Some colleges are “test-blind”, meaning they won’t look at scores even if a student submits them. Others are “test-optional.” They will look at the scores if you provide them. A third group is “test-flexible”, meaning students can submit other types of exam scores like AP or IB instead.
Each college’s policy will be slightly different. Some colleges will require a certain GPA be met before the student can withhold exam scores. Many request additional essays or letters of recommendations. In all cases though, colleges without test scores will look to other factors in their decisions. The GPA and high school courses will become more important because that third factor in the decision, the exam score, is not part of the equation anymore.
What about merit aid?
You might be thinking, “Why would anyone submit less than perfect exam scores if they didn’t have to?” The reason is that most (but not all) of these colleges still use ACT and SAT exam scores as part of their merit scholarship award determination. You can see an example on Miami University’s merit-aid grid scholarship page. (Miami University is not a test-optional school. We are just using their merit page as an example.) So, while the admissions decision may be made without relying on ACT or SAT exam scores, the determination of merit scholarships offered by the college will probably require those scores.
Use the Fair Test list as a tool in your college search tool kit.
Each family will approach their search differently. Do they have a high performing student who struggles with test-taking? Do they need to find colleges which provide merit aid? Understand the options available and use them to your best advantage.
Originally published 2/2019