December 21, 2021

The impact of test optional on students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds


Nicole Charpentier

In light of the Cal State System and Harvard's decisions to go test optional, learn about the impact on students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

In 2021, more than 75% of four-year colleges and universities were test optional. In fact, the Cal State System announced last week that they may be permanently test optional and Harvard will be test optional through 2026. While the move towards test optional started before the pandemic, it was accelerated by school and test center closures. More than half of colleges and universities in the United States are pledging to continue to not require the SAT or ACT in 2022. FairTest, an advocacy group focused on the biases in the standardized testing process, notes that over 925 schools have deemphasized the SAT and ACT for Fall 2021.

What is test optional? 

Colleges and universities that are test optional do not require students to submit SAT or ACT scores during the application process. Students are still able to submit their scores along with their resumes, teacher recommendations, essays, etc. but they will not be penalized if they do not.

Why are colleges and universities considering test optional?

One of the main reasons is because of the known correlation between socioeconomic status and standardized test scores. Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds tend to have lower SAT and ACT scores. This can be attributed to the cost to prepare for and take the test multiple times and the potential lack of academic support that low income students receive.

According to a study titled Defining Access: How Test-Optional Works, colleges that are considered “test optional” enroll — and graduate — a higher proportion of low-income students, first generation-students, and students from diverse backgrounds.

On the other hand, some education analysts say that test optional may ultimately hurt lower-income students. If standardized tests are no longer required, schools cannot source their names from traditional methods to outreach to students and there will no longer be a funnel of ACT/SAT starting with sophomores.

Since COVID caused some schools to move faster in implementing test-optional processes, it will be interesting to see how many revert to requiring SAT and ACT scores in the future. But in the meantime, colleges and universities will need to rely on demonstrated interest and other measures of student achievement and potential. 

Through the VisitDays network of 2M students and 24,000 high schools, colleges and universities can interact with prospective students from across the nation, regardless of their socioeconomic background. Using our online platform, students can connect with admissions reps at any time and from anywhere.

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