By Aimee Serafin

A 2021 Graduate Story

At a young age, William Nettles wanted to be a doctor like his father. He started to prepare for the rigorous academic path in 7th grade as he charted course options with his advisors. Will continued with academic achievements through high school, reaching out for tutors to secure top grades in class. He paid for SAT prep courses and took standardized exams multiple times, which earned him high scores, enough to gain entry into some of the top institutions in the country. But last spring, colleges and universities made a wide-sweeping decision that changed the way students have traditionally been admitted to schools.

In the worlds of PSAT, SAT, ACT, superscores and test-optional, COVID-19 forged unusual pathways in late spring 2021 regarding the college admissions process. Some schools across the nation were already moving toward test-optional admissions before the pandemic, but now more colleges and universities are offering varying (or temporary) options for the 2021-2022 applicants. These new approaches are untraditional in that they do not interpret a sole standardized test score as the fulcrum of future academic success.

For students like Will, this means the trend toward de-emphasizing SAT scores is growing. Although most Ivy League institutions still weigh standardized test scores, a shift has occurred in many accredited four-year universities and colleges. Flexibility in the admission process allows students sway in how to represent their strengths to admissions officers. Test scores become only one component of the larger application history, giving candidates more academic real estate to present themselves on paper.

For test-optional colleges, the buzzword in admissions offices is the “wholistic candidate approach” which is used for an applicant’s academic evaluation. This approach considers the full four-year (high school) profile, weighing extracurricular activities/interests and academic initiatives along with recommendations from teachers or employers. By examining “the whole” applicant history, colleges feel they can better determine the overall fit and potential achievements of students on their campuses.

In addition to test-optional, there seem to be two other paths emerging in the admissions process for students. The second option is test-flexible which houses different requirements in place of the SAT. Those options might permit a minimum GPA for a specific program or AP/IB scores instead of the SAT (requirements vary from college to college). Test-blind admissions are the least prevalent among American universities and colleges, but some institutions are proponents of it. Colleges that have this policy do not consider SAT scores as part of the student’s entrance portfolio: They will not accept SAT/ACT scores as part of the application process. This unconventional approach to admissions could significantly change the way students view their application experience to colleges and universities in the future.

A Cautionary Word

While schools move to downplay standardized test scores, there are valid reasons to exercise caution when deciding whether to have your child opt out of taking the exams. One reason is with the scenario of two applicants whose extracurriculars, GPAs and letters of recommendation are near identical. If one of the applicants submits a high test score, institutions are apt to accept this candidate over another who does not. In U.S. News and World Report’s article, “How Recent Events Reshaped College Admission,” Clark Brigger, executive director of admissions at the University of Colorado Boulder explains, “Beyond the possible admissions advantage that testing offers, there is also the matter of scholarships, which may be tied to ACT and SAT scores. You can apply without test scores, but you’re not going to get their best scholarships unless you provide them.” (Paragraph 16) (

It remains unclear how this trend will play out in the future. In general, admissions officers are skeptical that the standardized exams will go away altogether. But what they are seeing is a present requirement for applicants to be honest and authentic about their broader academic narratives, which may give rising 2022 seniors the opportunity to provide essays on how they have managed and taken advantage of the last year and a half.

It may be no surprise that decision making in higher education follows a piggy-back pattern. Reporter Jeremy Bauer-Wolf describes this scenario regarding the test-out option for schools in 2020 in his article, “How the National Test Optional Experiment Played Out at Colleges,” for

Decision-making in higher education is often a case of follow-the-leader. Shifting to test-flexible admissions during the pandemic was no exception. Almost all of the universities in the Ivy League announced they wouldn’t require test scores within about two weeks of each other in June 2020. The same pattern occurred in April of that year with many of the liberal arts schools ranked highest by U.S. News & World Report. Other schools made the same move between the spring and late summer of 2020. (paragraph 9) 

For a comprehensive list of test-optional schools for 2022, visit and search “College Not Requiring SAT.”

Photo by Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu on Unsplash