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Have College Applications Changed Forever?

Updated: May 18, 2021

Covid-19 has brought about significant change in the world, especially in the world of education. Almost overnight, schools had to switch to online learning. Suddenly, they were forced to tackle the challenges that came with teaching students online in the most effective ways possible. Parents had to deal with being home all the time. In the form of helping their children with school, working, and seeing family and friends through a screen. Students had to deal with being separated from their friends for a long period of time and tackling their own challenges which come with learning from home. Finally, large test taking centers had to find a way to give rigorous tests online without giving students a carte blanche to cheat on them. Now, over 1 year later, we can look back at what has changed and what we can expect to continue into the future.

What's Changed?

As a result of many students being simply unable to take the SAT test due to the pandemic, many colleges shrugged their shoulders and declared that the SAT and ACT, along with the accompanying subject tests could be optional to a student's application. This was a huge development as one, it had never been done before, and two, the SAT, ACT and accompanying subject tests served as one of the staples to a student's college application portfolio. This change, while thought to only last for the high-school graduating class of 2020, colleges made an even more radical decision and decided to make the SAT and ACT test portion of a student's portfolio entirely optional. Meaning that this change wasn't just for that year, but for all years moving forward.

In this post, we're going to discuss the impact of removing the SAT and ACT as a major component of a student's college application portfolio and where we see this trend going in the future.

Why Were These Tests Important?

Before we dive into the impact of this decision, let's discuss why these tests were important in the first place.

The SAT, in the past, has often been the very first filter for students. What colleges have done over the years is used the SAT as the preliminary filter to cut down the number of candidates they need to consider for their school from tens of thousands to only a few thousand. Beyond that, it also helped to discourage other students who would self select out of applying to such schools if their SAT scores didn't meet the standards for that particular college or university. If you'd like to learn more about this, you can do so here.

In the past, for hundreds of thousands of students as a result of this SAT barrier would be locked out of the schools of their dreams because their scores were simply too low and fell below the acceptable threshold that college considered. This would make sure that a student who would even make it past the first round would be acceptable academically as they've proven, without a show of a doubt, through their SAT score that they have the academic prowess to be successful at the given school they are applying to.

So what's changed?

Now that this barrier, and initial wall which has kept many students from applying to and being accepted by some of the best schools in the world has been knocked down, the application landscape has been, and will be, changed dramatically. Many students who, at first, wouldn't have thought to apply to top schools because their SAT scores were too low now believe that without this hurdle, they stand a much better chance of getting into the schools of their dreams. Some students who had great grades and exceptional extracurriculars but low SAT scores nw need not worry about those scores and stand a much better chance of making it into an elite school that they did before.

The barrier to entry for applying to some of the top schools in the country is now much lower, and as a result, many more students are going to apply. With good enough grades, the right extracurriculars, and sufficient leadership positions, students who don't traditionally score well on standardized tests have a fighting chance at some of the best schools in the world while before, if their scores didn't meet the required threshold, they'd barely get a glance..

This change of course, has some pros and cons to it depending on which side of the fence a student falls on.

On the plus side:

  1. Many students, who have would immediately be disqualified based on their low SAT scores, are given the opportunity to truly shine when applying to colleges.

  2. More aspects of a student's character can be highlighted through their extracurriculars and academic prowess than is simply displayed in a single standardized test score.

  3. Students who are financially struggling do not need to worry about paying upwards of $80 per SAT test and their families can conserve that money to help them or the family in other ways which may be more important.

Of course, there are also downsides to this change.

On the downside:

  1. Students who are traditionally excellent test takers face stiffer competition as the barrier to entry for many schools has been lowered significantly.

  2. As extracurriculars become the benchmark by which students are judged for whether or not they make it into college, it will become that much harder for students to stand out from their peers

  3. A student's Ap Scores will now be weighted more in determining their college potential in a way it hasn't before.

Now that we've listed out the pros and cons of this new change, let's discuss the possible directions this could take college applications moving forward.

Where is this going?

With the elimination of a major hurdle for students as sit relates to college applications, we see the admissions rates to some of the top schools in the country falling dramatically. In the last year alone, schools like NYU have had their admission rate fall by nearly 1/4 from 28% to 21%; and we anticipate this trend accelerating as fewer students take and report the SAT, but instead rely on their GPA and extracurriculars when applying to college.

As fewer students apply to college with their SAT scores, we anticipate top colleges putting much more weight on a student's Ap Scores and extracurriculars as the means to isolate the best of the best from the bunch. Now, students students will be selected by their Ap testing prowess and most of the weight of their college applications will be placed there.

However, we don't see the SAT test going out of style entirely. While it will become optional for colleges, students who send in stellar scores will be looked at more favorably than students who don't. This is because by sending in great SAT scores, it helps the college know right that the student in question is in fact college ready and makes the job of selecting such a student much easier. While not an official part of a student's application, we anticipate that students who take the SAT and submit an application where they did well on it to be given preference over similar students who didn't.

What you should do moving forward

While optional for a student's application, we recommend that students and parents do their best to continue taking the SAT at least two times. The reason for doing so is because there is only something to gain by continuing to take the SAT when applying to a given college of your choice. If a student does well on the SAT and chooses to submit the score, they are looked at very favorably by the colleges they are applying to and are given a leg up on the other students applying to that same school who chose to either not take the SAT or not report their scores. On the flip-side, if they take the SAT and do poorly, they need not worry as they don't have to submit any of the scores and can rely solely on their GPA, Ap testing, and extracurriculars. While they don't get the boost from not reporting their score, they aren't punished for it either.


In a nutshell, as a result of the SAT moving from required to optional for college applications, they have opened the doors for many students to apply to many schools that were once "reach schools" for them because of their low SAT scores. As a result, competition amongst these schools will become that much more fierce as the number of applicants increase for a limited number of spots at the school. This will make it especially difficult to stand out through extracurriculars, Ap tests and grades alone, but for students who don't forgo taking the SAT test, it will give them a leg up on other students as it will show colleges that they are indeed college ready and can handle being in an elite school at that level.

What we recommend is that students still take the SAT test as, how the rules stand right now, there is only upside to doing so. If a student does well, they can report their scores and will be given preferential treatment in their application process; and if they do poorly, they can simply elect not to report the score. It's a win win either way.

Closing Words

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