I get it. A lot of our students aren’t confident test-takers. They hear about how “hard” the SAT or ACT is and they want no part of it. Now, with many colleges and universities having a test-optional admission process, it might seem as if we can safely direct students and their families to take the test-optional route. However, it's not that easy.
Here are some factors to consider when counseling your high-anxiety and test-adverse students on whether to take these tests.
How does it affect the school's overall admission process?
Although many schools are eliminating the standardized-test score from their general admission criteria (and rightly so), a lot of them have replaced this element with additional admission steps. Take Temple University, for example – students being considered through their test-optional program are asked to submit a number of short-essay answers for full consideration. For students who are strong writers, this option can boost their chances of admission. But for those who don’t do well with written communication, applying through the test-optional program can put them at a disadvantage.
What programs does the school offer for your student population?
A number of institutional programs are designed to cater to the needs of first-generation-to-college students and students from households with lower incomes. If a student qualifies for some of these programs, opting out of standardized testing can put them at a disadvantage. For example, LaSalle University’s Academic Discovery Program is designed for high achievers who have lower standardized-test scores. This program admits a cohort of Philadelphia students each year with grant money that basically covers the cost of attendance, but students must have standardized-test scores to qualify.
What scholarship opportunities would they be passing up?
Before allowing students to decide to forgo the test, have them search for scholarships for which they are eligible. Both institutional and private donor scholarships might require a completed standardized test as part of their criteria for consideration (even if there isn't a minimum test score required). St. Joseph's University will admit students without standardized-test scores, for example, but the university indicates on its website that if students don't submit scores, they won't be eligible for some scholarships. Here’s a link to St. Joseph’s scholarships to help you navigate this with your students.
What if their plans fall through?
We see it every year. One or more students are all packed to head to campus, then reality hits – there’s no way they can foot the bill semester after semester. The next-best option is to do a last-minute scramble to see whether they can get into a more affordable institution. Students who have a set of standardized-test scores will have the option of applying to various colleges on the fly. But students who have not taken the SAT or ACT will be limited in their last-minute options. This could cause them to have to enroll in a school that’s not a good fit, transfer later, or take an unexpected gap year.
So how am I advising my students? I’m telling them to choose the test that best suits their strengths, really prepare for it, and do their best. If they don't like their scores, they can apply test-optional, but they will at least have scores so that they can take advantage of opportunities for which the scores are necessary.
Students and those who are advising them should consider all of these factors when deciding whether the student should take a standardized test – the SAT or ACT.
Here is a list of test-optional schools across the country to help you in your decision-making.
What’s your advice to students and families? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.
Melissa A. Rowe, M.Ed., is the founder of Capture Greatness! – A Scholarship Writing & College Coaching Initiative. As a writer, education advocate, and college counselor, she teaches young people how to write effectively to fund their college educations. Rowe, a Philadelphia native with more than a decade of experience in education, has held positions in schools, colleges, and out-of-school time programs. Recently, she was recognized by WHYY as an American Graduate Champion for her work with students from underresourced schools. Through Capture Greatness, Rowe has helped local students earn more than $1,000,000 in scholarship money, including four Gates Millennium Scholarship recipients. Learn more about her work at CaptureGreatness.org.