COVID Causes Changes to College Admissions

Are test-optional policies here to stay?


While the coronavirus and social distancing persist, many changes have occurred in everyday life. People have lost their jobs, schools have been moved online and sports seasons have been canceled. Moreover, standardized tests have been postponed across the globe, and it’s anyone’s best guess as to when they will resume. Yet, while this may be alarming for students who need these test scores to apply to college, many universities have eased these concerns by becoming test-optional.

Essentially what this means is that neither the SAT nor ACT will be required from students to be considered for admission. Instead, colleges will turn to a more holistic review of a student’s application, including their essays, extracurriculars and other aspects that make the student unique. Although this might be disappointing for students who have tirelessly been studying for these tests or may have finally achieved the scores they desired, this change is only fair to those who have not yet been able to take these tests. The next four years of their life shouldn’t be dictated by factors no one can control.

Over the years, there has been a growing push for schools to become test-optional, as standardized tests have historically favored the wealthy. To put it into perspective, CNBC found in 2019 that in low-income families (those with an annual income of less than $20,000) the average score on the SAT reading section was 433. On the other hand, kids who come from high-income families (those making over $200,000 annually) received an average score of 570. This is likely due to the fact that wealthier families have more money to spend on private tutoring and test prep. Not to mention, the tests themselves can cost up to $65 per attempt, a figure not all families can pay multiple times. 

With the coronavirus outbreak, this disparity has been amplified. To be frank, here at Trinity Prep we live in a bubble. Even during this chaos, the majority of us have health insurance we can count on, are financially stable, and have been able to continue learning online. Social distancing isn’t fun for anyone, but for many of us, that’s the extent of this disease: it has been little more than an inconvenience. It should be acknowledged that some people regardless of socioeconomic status may have family or friends who have been infected with the virus. However, as a whole, the Trinity community has been affected far less than others. 

According to The Guardian, as of April 9, 16 million Americans had lost their jobs and this number has continued to grow. Moreover, the US Census found that as of 2018, 8.5 percent of Americans, over 27 million people, did not have health insurance. In tandem, these two figures paint a dire picture for many US citizens. If these families are just trying to survive, how can their kids have time to worry about taking the SAT?

Back in 2018, UChicago became the first top-10 research institution to drop its testing requirements, joining other elite schools such as Wake Forest and Bowdoin. According to the Washington Post in 2019, these policies have encouraged students with lower socioeconomic status to apply, as well as those who are first-generation college students. They have also enabled kids to apply to schools they are interested in or that fulfill their needs and to not be limited by one bad outing on a test. 

Additionally, these policies improve the university’s reported average test-scores, as only those with high scores submit their results. This, in turn, can improve the college’s reputation. Thus, test-optional admissions is an arrangement in which everyone benefits.

Recently, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, top schools like Boston University, Tufts and all UC schools have enacted similar test-optional policies. In total, over two dozen highly competitive liberal arts schools have become test-optional, and as this pandemic continues, this number will likely grow. While these changes are temporary for now, it would come of no surprise if schools enact these policies long-term, as the benefits for both students and the universities themselves have been long documented.

To clarify, submitting superb test scores still helps a student’s application at test-optional schools, because to a certain degree, these tests have been proven to be a basic indicator of intelligence and college readiness. Yet, these scores alone aren’t always the best gauge of potential at these universities. No matter how intelligent a student is, if they are unwilling to work hard, it is unlikely they will find success. 

Moreover, the system in general leaves many at a disadvantage. Unlike good grades, which are typically the result of hard work, these test scores are often nothing more than indicators of status. Plus, some people just aren’t great test-takers, regardless of their circumstances.

 With the coronavirus outbreak, this flawed system has become even worse and impossible to ignore. It was only a matter of time before colleges came to the realization that students are more than a number on a page; their worth cannot be determined by one three-hour test. As such, this recent influx of test-optional policies in response to the coronavirus is equitable and long overdue.