The Reality of SAT and ACT Scores in Admissions During Covid-19

The UC system recently announced it is suspending testing requirements for admissions for Fall of 2021, and the SAT and ACT have been suspended until June (ACT) and August (SAT) at the earliest.

The typical clickbait headlines followed, claiming that “All Standardized Testing is Cancelled” and “the UCs Eliminate SAT Exams.”

What was not mentioned, though, is that the UCs did not eliminate using SAT and ACT exams in admissions decisions, which means that, in practice, their admissions criteria haven’t really changed at all.

The reason nothing will change in their admissions criteria is because, all things being equal, any student who has great scores will still send them, so the scores will end up being just as important as they have always been. This is better understood as “you don’t have to take the SAT, but you probably should,” as Joon Choi recently said when evaluating test optional admissions.

So where does this new policy of “students won’t be docked for not having scores, but we’ll still be using the scores for students who send them” leave students today?

The admissions for this fall’s applicant class won’t be put on hold, and students applying for fall of 2021 should absolutely take the SAT or ACT if they’re applying to the top 100 most competitive schools (all of whose admitted students average the 90th percentile or higher on the SAT and ACT), or if a higher score will help with financial aid. Otherwise, they can skip the exams without worry.

For students taking the exams, there will be ample opportunities to take the exam later this year: the July and later tests are still scheduled, the SAT plans on adding a test date in September, and both exams will potentially provide at home online exam options.

As frustrating as the disruption of test cancellations has been, it creates an opportunity for students to reflect on their goals, confirm their path, and allow more than enough time to complete a stress free prep program to achieve one’s goal score and gain admission to one’s top university choice despite the upheaval of the Covid-19 shutdown.