3/24: Tufts introduced the test-optional admission for the next three years.
3/25: BU decided to go test-optional for students applying for the next academic year.
4/1: UC announced that it would ease some requirements for the coming admission cycle by eliminating the SAT/ACT requirement.
4/22: Cornell suspended the test requirement for 2021 applicants.
As the decision deadline approaches, we expect more colleges to change their admission requirements based on the yields of this year. Many students are overjoyed and feel relieved after the series of changes. But is it really the time to relax and celebrate?
Let’s look into a profile of a rising senior:
Unweighted GPA: 3.8; UC GPA: 4.0
AP/Honor count: 8 by the end of 12th grade
Tests: 790 on SAT II Math taken in 11th grade, 1450 on the first official SAT
Activities: piano, tennis, about 100 volunteering hours, CS Club, Key Club, one or two lecture-based summer camps.
This profile is typical for Asian kids in the Bay Area. Based on the standing of this type of student—good GPA and average activities, 11th grade and the summer before 12th grade are critical as they are busy with test prep and expecting to utilize the last summer for advanced activities. Among all the possibilities that will help improve this profile, standardized tests are of notable importance:
Asian students are known for being strong test-takers. According to the report from the National Center for Education Statistics, the mean SAT score of Asians is 1223, which is 100 points higher than the second-highest mean (FYI, the ethnicity group with the second-highest mean is White). It’s our advantage. Compared to using the limited time to improve other areas, seeking a boost in test scores is more cost-efficient in most cases though it doesn’t mean that students should overlook other components of the admission criteria.
Most students’ target colleges fall under the category that still prioritizes academic performance instead of elite colleges that put significantly more weight on activities and personal attributes. If the student’s academic interest is one of the most popular majors, then numbers become even more important.
Though not the highest-achieving kid, the student and parents will still try to apply to a few dream schools. But don’t you just say elite colleges focus more on activities and characters? That’s because when 90% of their candidates have beautiful GPA’s and test scores, they have to use other factors to differentiate applicants.
At this point, no one knows how many students are “done” with their standardized tests exactly. And since many of the best high schools have switched to the Pass/No Pass grading system, a competitive SAT/ACT result will give students an edge on the application and is also a sign to colleges that they are not slacking off during the pandemic.
But what’s the point of making tests optional? Who will benefit from this policy? We are not talking about VIP’s—athletes, legacy, or honorable donors. As for our everyday high school students, tests are indeed optional at a decent college if the student has a strong GPA from a rigorous curriculum at a competitive high school, a unique or exceptional resume, AND something to show his continuous effort when staying at home.
After all, there are three things colleges look for: the ability to survive college courses, how students use their free time, and whether one strives for success in any conditions, and in most cases, testing plays an inevitable role in reflecting these qualities.