New season of college applications arrives with new challenges for seniors

Already a growing trend among colleges, test optional policies have become more of a norm this year after cancelation of test dates in the spring and summer of 2020


Oakton Community College

Many colleges, including Oakton Community College, above, which uses Multiple Measures for Placement, have gone test optional this year

The biggest change to the college admissions process this year is how much weight standardized testing had on a student’s application, and the number of schools going test optional. 

Many colleges have moved to a test optional policy not requiring students to send in their ACT or SAT scores. According to FairTest, more than 1630 colleges have gone test optional due to COVID as of October 2020

According to Post-High School Counseling (PHSC) Department Chair  Jill Cervantes, COVID allowed more schools to enact a test optional policy.

“It had already kind of been a growing trend,” said Cervantes. “But then with the pandemic and the limited access, it really just kind of forced the hand of a number of colleges to enact at least a temporary, if not permanent, test optional policy.”

Some students and teachers are starting to wonder if that change benefits applicants.

According to Michelle Brown, the Director of Admission and Enrollment at Oakton Community College, going test blind will benefit many students as well as other measurements for admission. Oakton also follows a test optional policy.

“But we also have what’s called Multiple Measures for Placement, so if they don’t place based on the ACT of SAT, or if they didn’t take that test, they can place based on other things like high school GPA or they could take the Oakton exams,” said Brown.

While tests might be optional for some schools, it is still encouraged to include test scores. Having a score above the 50th percentile of applicants to that school and refraining from submitting test scores, for example, can hurt an application; the safest thing for a student to do is to consult post-high school counselors first.

“Some schools, while they’ve gone test optional, are still requiring test scores for scholarship purposes, and so we always just want to make sure that [students] are making the choices that are in the best interest of their application,” said Cervantes.

Even though students don’t have to fret about the weight of standardized tests as much, interest in online resources has risen substantially. 

English teacher and senior adviser Kevin Bond teaches an after school ACT prep class.

“It’s about to start next week and we thought that maybe a lot of kids wouldn’t be interested in it because a lot of schools are doing test optional but we had seen more interest than ever in that class; we had probably 50% more interest than we usually do,” said Bond.

COVID is also making it harder for students to find their ideal campus. 

Before, students could travel to their dream colleges and attend in person conferences and talks with faculty as well as alumni. Now, colleges are moving their options online.

Although students might not prefer online meetings with college representatives, it is safer and  also helps those who can’t afford to travel around the country.

“Traveling to visit college campuses is expensive and it’s time consuming. In some ways it does level the playing field to make it a little more equitable,” said Brown.