In the state of Ohio, all juniors will take either the ACT or SAT sometime in February or March. Other states also use these exams (or something similar) as part of their benchmark testing to show students are ready for graduation. Despite the requirement that students sit for these exams, there is a growing movement of colleges that are not requiring ACT or SAT test scores for admittance–at all. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing is a non-profit that monitors this list of colleges with the purpose of leveling the playing field for all students in college admissions.
Each year the number of colleges that do not use ACT or SAT exam scores to admit students is growing by the hundreds. Currently, over 1,000 colleges and universities are part of the so-called “Fair Test” list.
Colleges are growing increasingly fond of this option.
Colleges claim that they are making admission more accessible to everyone and that they are leveling the playing field, and they are to a certain extent. However, the students withholding test scores probably scored lower than the ones who did submit scores. The result is an overall higher average exam score for that college’s admitted students. In addition, colleges that do not require test scores see a significant increase in the number of applicants. The result of higher average exam scores and increased numbers of applicants is higher scores in those national rankings that are so competitive.
Some colleges are “test-blind”, meaning they won’t look at scores even if a student submits them. Others are “test-optional.” They will look at the scores if your client’s student provides them. A third group is “test-flexible”, meaning students can submit other types of exam scores like AP or IB instead.
Each college’s policy will be slightly different. Some colleges will require a certain GPA be met before the student can withhold exam scores. Many request additional essays or letters of recommendations. In all cases though, colleges without test scores will look to other factors in their decisions. The GPA and high school courses will become more important because that third factor in the decision, the exam score, is not part of the equation anymore.
What about merit aid?
Your clients might be thinking, “Why would anyone submit less than perfect exam scores if they didn’t have to?” The reason is that most (but not all) of these colleges still use ACT and SAT exam scores as part of their merit scholarship award determination. There’s an example on Miami University’s merit-aid grid scholarship page. (Miami University is not a test-optional school. We are just using their merit page as an example.) So, while the admissions decision may be made without relying on ACT or SAT exam scores, the determination of merit scholarships offered by the college will probably require those scores.
Use the Fair Test list as a tool in your college search tool kit.
Each family will approach their search differently. Do your clients have a high performing student who struggles with test-taking? Do your clients need to find colleges which provide merit aid? Understand the options available and use them to your client’s best advantage.