Schools shift to test-optional to make admissions process more fair


Michelle Yamamoto

With current juniors unable to take standardized tests, more schools are becoming test optional.

SAT and ACT test dates are only some of many events canceled due to the impact of the coronavirus. To provide equal opportunities for students applying in the following semesters, many public and private colleges are developing test-optional policies. 

Boston University (BU) is one of many academic institutions that have adopted a test-optional admissions policy in response to the coronavirus. First year applicants applying for the fall 2021 and spring 2022 semesters will not be required to submit their SAT or ACT scores.

Our plan is to work with high schools to ensure that we understand completely the circumstances that students have been facing,” says Bode Wilson, associate director of admissions at BU. “Our holistic review process is deeply contextual in nature, so we always strive to evaluate students’ applications in the context of what’s been available to them.”

While BU’s test-optional policy is only for two semesters, other colleges have begun making permanent changes in their undergraduate admissions. In a letter to the Oregon State University community, Provost and Executive Vice President Edward Feser shared his recommendation for a permanent test-optional policy.

“These tests have limited demonstrated efficacy in predicting academic performance, and present concerns about a lack of equitable avenues to successful performance on them,” stated  Feser in his letter.

A study conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling in 2018 came to similar conclusions. After looking at colleges that required test scores and those where scores are optional, the study found that optional scores do not harm the schools.

“Almost all [test-optional] institutions in our study increased enrollment of underserved populations, with many showing proportionate increases exceeding those found at test-requiring peer institutions,” the study concluded. “And, the policy transition occurred without any signs of academic slide: GPAs and graduation rates didn’t suffer, and according to reports from the Deans many faculty were very pleased with the quality and character of the incoming classes.”

All Oregon public universities have implemented a test-optional policy for students applying for fall 2021 and beyond. Only the University of Oregon, Oregon State University and Portland State University implemented this policy in response to coronavirus. All other Oregon public universities already had a test optional policy.

Despite the changes universities are making in response to coronavirus, Wilson suggests that no changes in students’ preparation need to be made. He suggests that students take advantage of the additional information sections in the Common App and Coalition App.

I recommend very highly using those sections to explain particular changes that your school made, or particular challenges that you’ve faced with remote learning, or anything else that you feel will help me to get a clearer sense of your circumstances and your academic abilities,” he says. “Since basically every school is responding to the pandemic a little differently, any information you can provide about your changed circumstances will help us to give your application the thoughtful, accurate review it deserves.”