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To Submit or Not Submit?

We’re energized by springtime – and so are our students. They’re meeting with me about hyper-charging their journeys to college and getting a jumpstart on their Common App Personal Essays. Yes, students get it. To be successful in this process, they need to differentiate themselves, fueled by an understanding of what makes them excited about the future. 

To Submit or Not Submit? Even after the 2020-21 test-optional admissions cycle, testing remains the focus of media coverage. According to Jeff Selingo, author of Who Gets in and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions, about one-half of the applicant pool didn’t submit test scores. In a recent blog post, Selingo notes, “In every case I heard so far, students with test scores got accepted more often. In some cases, the admit rate was twice as high for students with test scores vs. those without.”

Yet admissions officers consistently deliver another message. The other day, I listened in on a webinar featuring admissions deans from three Boston-area institutions: BU, Northeastern and Tufts. To be sure, they don’t miss the old way of evaluating candidates. Boston U’s John McEachern found the test-optional process “liberating.” Tufts’ J.T. Duck explained that going test-optional made testing “less important and not a driver.” The admissions pros reiterated what we know about how high-end colleges are evaluating candidates: they focus on rigor in the curriculum available to students. “[We] map this onto how prepared they’d be for Tufts’ curriculum,” stated Duck.

“We have a deep pool and are looking for students that are looking for us. It doesn’t need a campus visit. It’s really that: ‘Why Tufts?’”  -Tufts Admissions, referring to the supplemental essay

So, should your student submit SAT or ACT results? That depends on where those scores are with respect to reported midranges. Should they retake the tests? That should be handled on a student-by-student basis. (Remember those section retests, individual sections of the ACT that students could retake online? We hear they’re postponed once again.) 

To make matters worse, U.S. News, which influences parents far more than it ever should, recently published “How Parents Can Help Get Ready for the SAT, ACT.”  Here are their suggestions for parents:

  1. Get involved in test prep at the right time.

  2. Help create a realistic target score.

  3. Know the latest version of the test.

  4. Establish a weekly test prep check-in time.

  5. Play the role of proctor.

  6. Remind your student about upcoming test dates.

Seriously? Parents are not in the business of creating target scores and proctoring tests. If parents have the resources, they can step back and engage a knowledgeable counselor or test-prep professional. If not, students can use wonderful resources like Khan Academy (for SAT) or Kaplan (for ACT). Students, not parents, need to be responsible for their own journeys!

Looking ahead to 2021-22, nearly all colleges and universities will be test-optional. Some, like Tufts, will continue longer-term pilots. Others, including the University of California system, will be test-blind. For some reason, U Georgia is bucking the trend, requiring standardized test scores from applicants. 

Waitlist Woes Recently in this blog, I discussed the need for students to deposit at a college and not bank on an admit off a waitlist (thought that really can happen). In To Stay on the Waitlist or Not?, counselor Lee Bierer tells us about the phone calls students receive when a spot opens up: “Some can get very pushy and ask students to make a decision within 48 hours or they’ll lose their spot, again. These calls typically start coming in mid-May, once they have reviewed who has accepted, how many spots are open and what holes they have in the freshman class.” I advise students to reassert interest when they’re placed on a waitlist, then lean on their school counselors for information.

In an article for USA Today, Sara Harberson encouraged students to have a backup plan. Last year, she wrote, Tulane sent waitlist offers to nearly 13,000 students, and about 4,500 took them up on it. But Tulane never needed to turn to the waitlist at all for its freshman class of 1,820. Haberson, a former admissions dean at UPenn, reminds us that some colleges do look at ability to pay when offering spots to students. 

Demonstrated Interest: Get on the List! In the Boston-based webinar, two of the three admissions officers told applicants to add their names to a college’s mailing list. That way, they will know when in-person visits will be allowed. But I suspect there’s more behind it, possibly fueling their algorithms or securing names that might not be available from testing organizations.

AP-pealing to Students? It’s AP time again. Some of your students completed the exams the old-fashioned way: in their classrooms at a set date in May. Others are taking automated versions later this month or in June. Much to the delight of test-takers, the May 3, 2021, Government and Politics (GoPo) exam included a question about teen icon Taylor Swift, who took to social media ahead of midterm elections to inspire voting. We knew College Board was putting more stock in the AP tests . . .

This spring, your student’s highest priority should be to finish the academic year on a high note. But when it’s time for list-building, curricular planning or essay writing, don’t hesitate to schedule a meeting.


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