Can "SAT/ACT Optional" Admissions Open Doors to Equity at America's Selective Colleges?

Imagine a straight-A student, a leader in her school community who dreams of attending a selective private college known for topnotch professors and an excellent classroom experience - a school like George Washington University, Macalester College, Mount Holyoke College, Trinity College, or Wesleyan University. Our student looks forward to being the first in her family to attend college. Her parents never had the opportunity in Mexico.

This bright young woman works hard and has demonstrated her abilities in school, year after year after year. She's a standout among her peers and is recognized as such by her teachers. Those around her assume the future holds many options for one so accomplished.

Imagine this same student struggling on the SAT. Despite diligent preparation and focused effort on test day, her scores fall short. She feels they don't accurately measure her capabilities. Discouraged, she wonders if her sights have been set too high. A hint of self-doubt surfaces for the first time. Such a scenario is all too prevalent for some students. Accomplished Latino, Black, and socioeconomically disadvantaged students often fail to perform as highly as their White peers on standardized tests - in large part because of a lack of resources they experience in life.

The prevailing advice to these students might be to recalibrate their college expectations. Aim for something more "realistic," like community college. But at Breakthrough Silicon Valley, College Counselor, Jenny Uribe, actually suggests that students add schools like Trinity and Wesleyan to their lists, especially if their academic records shine, even if their test scores don't.

What Uribe knows is that a growing number of four-year colleges and universities no longer require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. The New York Times reports that this year alone, 47 schools have dropped their testing requirements. And according to The National Center for Fair and Open Testing's FairTest database, more than 800 colleges and universities have chosen to de-emphasize test scores in the admission process.

Early adopters of test optional policies, like Bates College in Maine, report that standardized tests don't necessarily predict college performance. High school grades and teacher recommendations are far more reliable predictors. And as colleges strive to increase racial and socioeconomic diversity on campus, eliminating testing requirements is a big step in the right direction. Case in point: our straight-A Breakthrough student, an outstanding candidate that any top college would want the chance to consider as an applicant, but who may have shied away from applying to selective colleges requiring that she report test scores that she knows fail to reflect her full potential.

Some critics of test optional practices claim they have failed to deliver on the promise to increase diversity on campus. And while it may be true that in some settings, diversity has been slow to increase, institutions with a long history of test optional practices have seen steady improvement over time. These schools understand that test optional policies are an important component of a strategy to not only increase campus diversity, but to open doors to equity and opportunity in higher education for underserved youth.

*Despite the fact that many colleges and universities are going test-optional, the reality is that the majority still require students to submit test scores with their applications. Breakthrough Silicon Valley cannot ignore the significance of college admittance test scores, their impact on student college choice, and financial aid and scholarship opportunities. Breakthrough offers a 30-hour ACT preparation course for juniors. Students of a similar demographic to our own have statistically performed below the average, which may prevent them from receiving merit scholarships or acceptance to certain universities. $500 underwrites an ACT prep course for one of our juniors. Click here to underwrite a test-prep course for an academically motivated, low-income student and make their collegiate dreams come true.