Vt. students navigate test-optional college applications

ACTs and SATs used to be a huge, mainly mandatory part of a student’s journey to college, but not anymore.
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 4:59 AM EDT
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BRANDON, Vt. (WCAX) - ACTs and SATs used to be a huge and mandatory part of a student’s journey to college, but not anymore. Since 2020, thousands of colleges nationwide are test-optional, meaning students don’t have to submit scores if they don’t want to.

Otter Valley Union High School senior Jaden Grace was happy with his SAT score after putting in months of effort preparing for the test. Despite that, he decided to not use it for any of the test-optional colleges he applied to.

“The SAT didn’t end up being useful to me when I actually applied to the colleges, but I feel like I did actually learn a lot while studying for it,” said Grace. When making the decision, he said it felt like some schools wanted to see the score more than others. “I didn’t know if it was going to negatively impact me if I didn’t send them in, even if my scores weren’t exactly where they wanted.”

“I want to go in and get a very good test score, just in case, if schools revert to the non-test optional because that’s what I’ve been hearing,” said Derrick Li, who is wrapping up his junior year at Otter Valley and navigating the test-optional world as he looks to apply next year. “I’m just trying to do the best as I can.”

Otter Valley guidance counselor Meredith McCarthy said she’s advising her students to take the exam to have it in their back pocket, noting it could benefit them with scholarships, getting into honors colleges, and in some cases, it’s still necessary to submit if you’re applying to a specific major. “By taking the testing you at least are not scrambling all of a sudden to try and manage taking this test,” said McCarthy.

She says an informal poll of an AP literature class at the high school showed only three out of 20 students submitted their scores in the application process. McCarthy says it is tricky to navigate because the concern is that submitting a score below the school’s average could hurt students and provide one less data point on applications. “It’s been a huge shift in terms of if you do not have to take the SAT or do you have to take it. I think it’s also opened up for some students. Options about applying because taking the SAT does cost a lot of money, it does take a lot of time,” said McCarthy.

Middlebury College turned test-optional in 2020 and is looking to extend its three-year pilot. “We really think it’s important, as we’re doing any data collection, to have a full four-year cohort of students to really look at each year and look at everything from the courses that they have selected to what their GPA is in their first, second and third and fourth year at Middlebury,” said Nicole Curvin, the school’s dean of admissions. She says they have always considered other application factors and haven’t added any more now to supplement for being test optional. She said since the pilot about half of the students submitted and half didn’t. Curvin added that not submitting scores doesn’t impact their admission decision. “We’re looking at the course of four years of high school progression and we want to see students excelling and we want to know that they’re capable of succeeding here.”

The University of Vermont is extending its pilot too. Champlain and St. Mike’s are also test optional.

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