A lot of news in the testing world recently, the biggest item of which is that the University of Chicago has decided to become test optional. This is big news because although there are more than 800 institutions that are test optional already, Chicago is the first top 10 University and major research university to adopt a test optional policy. The decision has sparked a deluge of discussion in the college admission and testing worlds about the changing role of testing in the admissions process.
So what does this mean for students applying to college in the next 3-4 years? While the decision is very recent and the results uncertain, here are a few observations for families and students trying to evaluate the testing landscape.
Grades are still the most important piece of your application. This was true when I applied to college in 1999, it’s true today, and it will still be true in five years. Without question, high school grades remain the best predictor of academic success in college. If anything, grades are becoming more important, despite grade inflation.
University of Chicago has not and will not become easier to get into. If an admitted student chose not to submit test scores, you can bet that student had stellar grades, high-level classes, and outstanding personal qualities and achievements. If anything, the acceptance rate at the school will likely go down, as more students will feel emboldened to apply if they are not deterred by the SAT or ACT.
Most students will still submit scores. At test-optional schools, 75% of applicants still submit scores, and those who do not are admitted at slightly lower rates than are those who do submit scores, though those rates of course will vary from school to school.
So what’s the takeaway? Most students should probably still plan to take the SAT and/or ACT. If a student is a strong test-taker, that student should definitely plan to take the SAT and/or ACT. Test optional schools still consider scores if they are sent, so a score that was an asset to an application before will still be an asset now.
Long-term, I wouldn’t be surprised to see most major universities go test optional, possibly within the next 5-10 years. But, for students who excel in school and want another data point to confirm their academic skill, tests will still play a significant role in the application process.