This past Wednesday, Cornell University announced that it will not be requiring prospective students to submit SAT or ACT scores in the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. While Cornell is the first Ivy League institution to introduce a test-optional policy, it follows recent decisions made by other universities in light of the novel coronavirus pandemic. In response to canceled tests, the University of California system, Case Western Reserve University, and others have announced they will not be requiring standardized test scores for next year’s applicants.
On the other hand, the Penn Admissions website states that while SAT subject tests will be optional in the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, SAT or ACT scores will still be required. The decision to make subject tests optional is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. Given the significant disruptions that high school students are facing, Penn Admissions should not require any standardized test scores for applicants in the coming academic year.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many students’ plans to take the SAT or ACT, leaving them struggling to complete the tests before applying to college in the fall. The College Board, which administers the SAT, has canceled its May and June testing dates. While it did not cancel its March testing date, many students who registered for the exam were unable to take it because their states had already instituted stay-at-home orders. The ACT has canceled its April testing date, replacing it with additional testing dates in June and July. It has also announced a plan to offer online testing beginning in late fall or early winter, but this will likely be too late for many early decision applicants. Facing uncertainty as to how long stay-at-home orders will continue, many students do not know if they will be able to take standardized tests before their college application deadlines.
Even when tests become available, they may not be accessible to all students. Not every applicant has the technological resources needed to complete a standardized test online. And even if in-person tests become available in the summer or fall, increased demand due to canceled spring tests may make it harder for students to register. Stay-at-home orders may also be relaxed or introduced at different points in different parts of the country, meaning that some students will be able to take standardized tests while others will not. By implementing a test-optional policy, Penn will allow all interested students to apply, regardless of external circumstances that prevented them from taking standardized tests.
High school students are already facing enough stress as they prepare to apply to college, including disrupted coursework, canceled summer plans, and halted extracurricular activities. Many are also facing personal challenges related to the pandemic, such as illness or financial struggle. In this unique situation, Penn Admissions should not bar students from applying to the University simply because logistical challenges leave them unable to take standardized tests. Instead, Penn Admissions should implement a test-optional policy to recognize the unprecedented challenges students are facing at this time.
A test-optional policy is not a relaxation of Penn’s rigorous academic standards. Rather, it is a simple way the University could support high school students as they navigate a disrupted college admissions process.
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