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The Trinity Voice

The student news site of Trinity Preparatory School

The Trinity Voice

The student news site of Trinity Preparatory School

The Trinity Voice

Navigating a New Era of Admissions

Ex-Harvard admissions officer weighs in on standardized tests

   Sitting in her room on Dec. 14, senior Rhea Maniar awaits the early decision notification from Harvard. Waiting in nervous anticipation with her parents and younger brother, Maniar knows that Harvard defers a large number of applicants. A minute later, all these fears melt away, and everyone begins screaming and jumping in excitement and celebration over her acceptance. 

   Every year, a fresh wave of students are put under a microscope by admissions officers to determine if they are the right fit for the college. The many different aspects of the application, including standardized test scores, extracurriculars and academics, make it hard to pinpoint exactly what college admissions officers are looking for in a prospective student. 

THE STANDARDIZED TEST

   According to U.S. News & World Report, over 1900 schools are test-optional or test-blind for the fall 2024 admissions cycle, with California’s public universities omitting them entirely from the application process. Schools are shifting away from standardized testing due in part to ongoing debates about how racial and socioeconomic factors create disparities in test results. Multiple studies have shown a correlation between higher income and higher SAT/ACT scores. 

   After COVID-19 forced colleges to evaluate applications without standardized test scores, these types of findings have pushed many colleges to reassess the importance of test scores in their admissions processes in the post-COVID era. Grace Cheng Dodge, who worked in admissions at Harvard from 2002-2009 and 2012-2015, and at Wellesley from 2015-2018, shares her view on how standardized test scores are used in admissions. 

   “If a college says they are test-optional, then they are really test-optional,” Dodge said. “Test scores [are] only used to corroborate the academic power of a student. If the transcript and recommendations show the same information that a student will be able to handle the academic rigor of the college and contribute something back in terms of adding to the school community, test scores tell colleges nothing more than they already know.”

   Since going test-optional, many elite schools such as Cornell University have seen an annual decrease in score submissions. According to Cornell’s admissions website, the percentage of first-year students submitting their scores in their application has fallen every year since Cornell went test optional, and it now sits at 53.3% as of 2023. 

   “The point here is that tests matter less than people think,” Dodge said. “The score doesn’t show anything as compared to years of high school grades. One’s test score is not the reason they will be a good fit for a college, and testing has never been a reason to admit a student.”

   It is a common misconception that an excellent standardized test score can save a mediocre application. While it might seem like an outstanding test score can only help an applicant’s chances, it could end up hurting the application in some cases.

   “High test scores are often misinterpreted by students and parents as a way to compensate for lower grades at school,” Dodge said. “However, to colleges, test scores that are much higher than a GPA should indicate, introduce even more questions. Is the student learning at school if the grades don’t seem to match the testing ability? Does the student refuse to do homework? Does the student refuse to participate in class?”

THE PERSONAL PROFILE

   In today’s changing admissions landscape, students can take advantage of the opportunity to focus a little less on studying for the SAT or ACT and spend more time strengthening other aspects of their application. One way is to get teacher reccomendations that are more personal.

   “Teacher recommendations that say a student got good grades and was the best test taker in class are not helpful because colleges already see this from the transcript,” Dodge said. “It’s all about [figuring] out who a student is, and who they will be on a college campus.” 

   The non-academic aspects of an application are also very crucial in telling admissions officers who a student is as a person. Applicants need to highlight what they can add to a school’s community. 

   “A test score does not tell a college any of that,” Dodge said. “I would say all applications are scrutinized for the non-academic aspects of the application. I really did not see applicants applying to Harvard and Wellelesly [who were] long shots academically. So admissions officers focus more on what students [would bring] to [a] campus.”

   Trinity’s College Counselor Christine Grover believes that being able to contribute to a school’s diversity is an important focus point.  

   “They’re always looking for all different kinds of diversity,” Grover said. “They want to bring diversity of thought to the classroom, so it could come from where you [are] from to how you were raised to how you think.” 

   Finding extracurriculars in unique areas of interest is one way to potentially add to a school’s diversity. Maniar felt that one of her strengths was going off the beaten path and following her passions  inside and outside of school.

   “I think the strongest point in my application was doing what I really was interested in and maybe not spending so much time on things that I felt like everyone was doing,” Maniar said. “I think what I did was follow my passions, see it all the way through and budget my time well to make sure I was splitting my time between in-campus stuff and clubs, but also pursuing out-of-campus opportunities.”

THE FIT

   Students should keep in mind, however, that the application process is a “human one,” according to Dodge. The admissions officers review the applications, and then each one advocates for the applicants they think would fit well with their school. At the end of the day, if an applicant is not a good fit, they might get rejected even if they have high grades, lots of extracurriculars and a high standardized test score. Alternatively, if an applicant looks like a good fit, they could get accepted despite a low test score.

   “It all comes down to fit with a college too,” Dodge said. “It’s no one’s fault if the school desperately needs oboe players next year and you play the French horn. You probably won’t get in, but that’s not a judgment on you or how awesome you are. That French horn player who gets in, who you think has lower grades than you might be a better fit for the college this year.” 

   The ultimate decision on whether or not an applicant gets into a college lies at the discretion of the admissions committee, so there is only so much that students can do. However, applicants can do a lot to convince admissions officers that they are a good fit by following their passions and letting that shine through in their application. 

   “Be the student that admissions officers fight for,” Dodge said. “Be yourself! Do what you love! Do what your school and community offer and don’t worry about what other kids have access to in their schools. If you do what you love, you will keep doing it and you will get good at it, and then you teach others and people look to you as a leader. But it all starts with finding something you want to do for yourself. That demonstrates curiosity, lifelong learning, self-awareness and love of learning.”

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About the Contributor
Sammy Lou, Staff Writer/Copy Editor
Sammy Lou is a sophomore entering his second year on staff. He writes for the Opinions department and serves as the Copy editor. He loves playing chess, learning new languages and following Shohei Ohtani. Contact at [email protected].

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