Among the many industries that will be thankful for life to return to some sort of normalcy after the pandemic is the standardized testing industry, specifically the ACT and SAT. The question, however, is what the new normal will look like for the tests.
Over the spring and summer
as the ACT/SAT canceled tests and hundreds of colleges—including highly selective ones
—joined the test optional movement (at least for this year), I asked a group of admissions deans to forecast the percentage of test scores they’d end up receiving this year.
- Many were flying blind—this would be their first year without requiring tests, and as I’ve written in previous newsletters, everything in admission is based on historical trends.
- Still, most deans forecasted somewhere in the range of 50-75% of applicants would submit scores.
The numbers: In recent weeks, as applications have been arriving at colleges for early decision (or regular admissions), I made another round of calls and emails.
- Few schools want to publicly release the numbers of student submitting scores so early in the process, partly out of fear a low number might encourage a wave of applicants who have no shot of getting in.
- So far, the number of applicants with test scores is lower than what was expected.
What I’m hearing: Here’s a snapshot of the percentage of students who have submitted scores, with some context for the type of institution based on their acceptance rate.
- Private research university (<10% acceptance rate): 70%
- Public research university (<60% acceptance rate): 30%.
- Public university (<80% acceptance rate): 25%
- Public research university (<25% acceptance rate): 69%
- Private research university (<20% acceptance rate): 43%.
From the dean of admission at the final school on the list above: “We’re seeing big gains in diversity. Very pleased about that and it’s something that will make a return to required testing harder to do.“
The most extensive report I got was from a large public research university with a national footprint (<60% acceptance rate):
- 59% with test scores, but big differences by residency and major.
- 56% in-state. 75% out-of-state. 43% international.
- 75% engineering. 55% business. 35% education, social work, general.
From the dean of admission at this school: “Based on what we heard from in-state privates who were test-optional, we were guessing test-optional would have been 10-15% if we had gone test optional in a ‘normal year.’ So this is about double what we expected.”
What I’m watching: Florida, Florida, Florida.
- The 12 universities in the State University System of Florida, including the University of Florida, are among the few big schools that haven’t gone test optional.
- So far, the universities are seeing a 50% drop in applications compared to last year.
What’s next: Earlier this month, 30% of the students who registered for the SAT were unable to take the test because of testing center limits or closings. That number was running closer to half earlier this fall.
- As we enter 2021, more high school juniors than seniors will be taking the tests. If their tests are canceled in close to equal numbers to what has happened this fall, colleges that went test optional for a year will have to make a decision about whether to extend that for the Class of 2022.
- Expect the most selective colleges that are test-optional for a year to hold off as long as possible on that announcement—late spring/early summer—to see if testing returns to any sort of normalcy
Bottom line: The early numbers indicate that, in general, the more selective the university and the more selective the major, the higher the percentage of students submitting scores. Those are the institutions most likely to return to testing after this is over, along with some big publics with overwhelming numbers of applicants or where there will be political pressure to require test scores. But we’re probably talking perhaps dozens of institutions, not hundreds.