By: Natalie Tursi, Gateway Regional High School
WOODBURY HEIGHTS, N.J. — The worldwide pandemic left a lot of 2020-21 high school graduates unable to take the SAT test or the ACT test required to be put on their college applications. Without the ability to take the test, and with no scores, the class of 2020 left an empty space on their applications where it was asked to write them in.
In response to the situation, many colleges and universities decided to remove the SAT score requirement from their applications altogether, some permanently and some temporarily. Now, students can choose whether or not they would like to send their scores to colleges, or strike them completely.
The option for students to provide applications without their test scores was initially to keep students safe during COVID — though the universities slowly realized that the decision to drop the requirement for standardized test scores could increase the number of students applying from different backgrounds. It would open a door to a variety of opportunities for students who seek to enter universities without their test scores.
However, this decision has become largely debated between universities, high schools, and students alike.
Shannon Pagano, a guidance counselor at Gateway Regional High School, expresses that she is a strong advocate for the optional SAT scores. “You’re looking at one day in a kid’s life. It’s really hard to try and snapshot four years of a student in one day for five hours. It’s not fair.”
There are a plethora of drawbacks and benefits to making the SATs optional. Most teachers have said that the biggest benefit is that their students are no longer denied from colleges due to unfit scores. The SAT test is full of information and sometimes proves difficult for students to memorize it all. With the decision to opt out of the test, kids can easily showcase their other attributes, including extracurriculars and overall grades in lieu of their SAT scores.
Pagano says, “One benefit would be, kids who are not great test takers, they’re not then penalized because they have bad scores, when really everything else about them is wonderful.”
A second benefit Pagano mentions is that the SAT test is truthfully a bad indicator of how well a student will do in college. “Kids can perform really well on SATs, and then still flunk out of college,” she claims. [The tests are] not really a good predictor of how well a student is going to do.”
Though she says she is a supporter of the decision to drop standardized test score requirements, Pagano relays a drawback that has a major effect on students applying to colleges in regards to kids who are good test takers. Due to the amount of kids not taking the test, Pagano believes that colleges aren’t weighing the scores as much.
“Kids who are great test takers don’t get to showcase that, necessarily,” she says. “I don’t think schools are weighing that as much as they did before. I have some students who don’t have a lot of activities and clubs and are kind of banking on their SAT scores that are going to be high, and now the schools aren’t looking at them to the same level.”
Pagano claims that she thinks most students are not sending their scores to colleges. Because of the option to apply without them, she says a lot of her students find it unnecessary to send them in. She finds that most students are seeing this as an opportunity to present their other qualities to colleges, rather than counting on only SAT scores.
“I think most kids are not sending them, to be honest. I used to get questions all the time, like ‘How do I send my SAT scores? I need help sending my SAT scores!,’ and I only had three kids this year that asked me how to do it,” she explains. “It’s definitely not to the same level that it used to be, I definitely do not think kids are sending them, even when they’re good.”
Many students and teachers believe that standardized tests, like the SATs, ACTs, and PSATs, come across as intimidating, and often cause many highschool students to experience anxiety and stress. Pagano believes that most students are choosing to opt out of taking the standardized test because of this. “I think it’s just really stressful. Just the pressure of the test in general gives people anxiety,” she says.
Vanessa Cloud, Penns Grove High School’s guidance counselor, is in agreement with this. She believes that mental health is something to be taken seriously, and with the option to opt out of the test, students are relieved of a lot of anxiety they would have otherwise experienced.
“I think mental health for high school students is important and sometimes that test does stress them out,” she says. “They will get hung up on a number or on a test score, and feel a lot of stress over that one score or that one part of their academic profile. And students are so much more than just that number.”
Another benefit that Pagano remarks on is that more students are applying to four year colleges. “I think kids were deterred from applying to a four year college because they had to take it, and now more kids are applying to a four year who maybe wouldn’t have before because they don’t have to take it.”
Nowadays, more and more kids are applying to schools they may not even have considered before due to the requirement to provide SAT scores. There are so many new doors opening that lead to a variety of possibilities for students to embark on in their college lives that came from the decision to drop SAT scores. The available spots in universities have seemed to expand to fit not only those who submit excellent scores, but to those who have excellent transcripts and are overall very good students.
Kingsway Regional High School’s guidance counselor, Owen McBride, lays out his own set of several drawbacks and benefits to making SAT scores optional, and explains that the application process has been made slightly more difficult in certain aspects.
“One of the more frustrating aspects of the college application process is the lack of uniform policy,” McBride says. “So every college kind of has a different policy regarding the SAT optional portion of their application.”
McBride explains that the application process has been made even more grueling than before. Prior to the SAT score requirement drop, this process was burdensome and stressful from beginning to end. However, with the drop, colleges are now altering their fine print to advance in a world where their applicants are not submitting scores. This means that the universities may require extra essays to replace the SAT score, and some colleges even still require them to be sent.
“My advice to my students if they’re considering applying SAT optional, is to go on the schools website and read the fine print about the policy,” he advises. “A lot of schools on their websites will go into the statistics, like, ‘Okay, if you don’t send your SATs, we’re gonna ask for an extra essay,’ or ‘If you don’t send your SATs, we’re gonna pay more attention to your transcript.’”
A drawback McBride and Cloud both mention is that without SAT scores, merit based scholarships may decrease, and students who may have received them specifically for the test scores might not be given one.
Because of this, Cloud advises students who are good test takers to take the test. students are still likely to be granted a merit scholarship based on their scores if they happen to be good, and the score might be better than was originally thought, so student’s always have a chance to do well and get a merit scholarship out of the SAT test if they take it.
One of the most underlined points in favor of the removal of the SAT score requirement, and one that all three counselors are in agreement on, is that the SAT test is unfair in allowing students to be liable for admissions.
The SAT test is held on a Saturday morning for a five hour period. Most teachers say that this is an unfair judgment of a student’s academic ability. They say that the test is a bad reflection on students, and one day out of a four year academic career should not determine whether or not a student gets accepted into a university.
“You have some kids whose test scores don’t reflect what they’ve shown on their transcripts,” Mcbride explains. “It’s one Saturday morning, it’s five hours, some people don’t test very well, some people crumble a little bit under the pressure.”
McBride offers that as a benefit, colleges are making more decisions based on real time school work, rather than based on their SAT scores. “When you compare it against four years of coursework where they’ve performed really well, there’s a chance to have a college make an admissions decision based just on that coursework, as opposed to that snapshot of how you did on the test. And for those kids, it’s a great option.”
However, he adds a caveat to this claim with a drawback that he feels is of concern, which is that of a student’s legibility for a certain major. McBride explains that SATs, while they are not a good reflection on a student overall, they can be used to determine if a student is fit for a certain school’s program or major.
Another concern on McBride’s mind is that a student might get into a certain school or major, yet not have the skills to be successful there. “One of the ways the school could have determined that is from their SAT scores. I just hate the idea of a student landing in a certain major that they’re under prepared for, and now all of a sudden, they’re in over their heads.”
Like Pagano, McBride finds that the SAT optional decision is great for kids who rely mostly on their transcripts instead of their SAT/ACT scores.
“For students who have that very strong transcript and who have the GPA to qualify for admissions to a school, but they fall short of the SAT requirement, to bring them back into the fold, they go off their GPA and their essay and any letter of recommendations,” McBride says. “I think it allows some kids an opportunity to get onto some really good campuses who would eventually probably really thrive.”
Contradictory to Pagano and Cloud, who has seen less and less of their students take the SAT test, McBride says that he hasn’t seen that with his students. “You might have the same amount of kids taking them, but obviously you have a lot less sending them,” he explains.
“I almost always tell them that I still think it would be smart to take it at least once,” Mcbride continues. “Number one, It’s not like your score gets sent automatically anywhere unless you want it to. So there’s not a huge amount of risk. And number two, you might do better than you thought — or number three, when you’re doing your research as a junior, you might stumble across a school that is not SAT optional, or that revises its policy late. And you don’t want to have to start your senior year thinking like, ‘Oh, my God, I haven’t taken the SATs yet, now I have to sign up in November, am I going to meet the early action deadline?’ I think it’s just always a smart play to have at least one score under your belt.”
Students in this year’s graduating class vary in their responses to sending their SAT scores to potential colleges versus not. Some students, like Joshua Kimber and Egypt Guy, who both attend Gloucester County Institute of Technology, only sent their scores because it was required by the colleges they aspired to attend.
Rachel Endt, a senior at Gateway Regional High School, says that she sent her SAT scores to some colleges, but not all of them. Endt says that she only sent her scores to the schools that required them as part of the application process. “I applied to 7-8 different schools and all but two required applicants to send in their SAT scores, so for those ones, I sent them in. However, for the several schools that did not require SAT scores as part of their admissions decision, I chose to opt-out of sending my scores.”
Endt’s second point for not sending her scores in was based on her skill in test taking. She remarks, “Personally, I am not the best test taker, so I did this because I felt as if my scores did not accurately represent my true academic ability, and that materials such as my high school transcript and extracurriculars better represented me as a student.”
Another Gateway Student, Evan Kircher, chose to opt out of taking the test altogether. “I didn’t even take the SATs,” he says. “I didn’t think it was necessary because most colleges don’t need them anymore.”
Alex Pfender, a Gateway student, has decided to put his scores on all his applications. He says he thought that his scores would give him a better chance of being accepted. Although he sent his SAT scores in, he finds the practice “useless.”
“They’re not a good measure of intelligence because they cover way too much content for most people to do as well as they could,” Pfender explains.
Local New Jersey colleges also have contrasting opinions on this particular matter. Some admissions offices say that SAT scores are important for educational purposes, while others believe it is an inaccurate portrayal of their future students.
Tracy Lisk, the Assistant Director of Admissions at Stockton University, explains that Stockton is not requiring their applicants to submit their SAT or ACT scores. “At Stockton, we don’t believe that SAT scores fully represent a student’s academic ability, and while they are certainly useful in select circumstances, we feel that giving students the option to provide SAT scores, rather than require them to do so, can only benefit them,” she says.
While Lisk remarks that SAT scores do not increase a student’s chances of getting into the university, she also says that, “Submitting SAT scores may help a student be directly admitted to their chosen major.” Lisk says that the only three programs still requiring SAT/ACT submission at Stockton University are nursing, accelerated medical, and accelerated pharmacy.
“It’s a fairly new policy, and there’s not a lot of longitudinal data yet on how students who apply SAT optional do when they’re on college campuses.” McBride says. “I would hope that colleges are seeing that they do fine, and that’s why they’re continuing their policy. And in that case, I’m all for anything that opens up more opportunities for students.”
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