Barriers to College

Despite the frequent and confusing changes in admission requirements, many students are continuing to prepare for and sign up for the SAT or the ACT during these uncertain times.

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Posted By

Dodie Carmichael

Published On

March 4, 2021

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Despite the frequent and confusing changes in admission requirements, many students are continuing to prepare for and sign up for the SAT or the ACT during these uncertain times. It is no secret the pandemic and admissions scandal has thrown higher education into a tailspin and has many educators discussing the future of the admissions process along with the undeniable relationship between economic inequalities and educational inequities.

Test Optional/Test Flexible/Test Blind Admissions Approach

Due to testing cancellations and in-person testing hurdles created by COVID-19, along with the admissions scandal, many 4-year universities and colleges are going test optional, test flexible, or test blind. This means SAT or ACT scores will not necessarily be a requisite of the application process. It is important a student stays updated on what universities or colleges they would like to apply to and what the new requirements are for acceptance. This will assist them in determining if they should take the SAT or the ACT.

What is the difference between test optional, test flexible or test blind? Test optional universities or colleges will allow the student to decide if they want to submit their test scores. If they are submitted, the school will take their SAT or ACT test scores into consideration along with other factors. Test flexible schools will allow students to submit scores from the SAT, ACT, or another test in its place. And test blind schools will not consider any standardized test scores. 

The number of test blind schools increased due to two factors - COVID-19 forcing widespread cancellations of SAT and ACT test administrations as well as the admissions scandal that broke in 2020. In the admissions scandal, a California Superior Court ruled that all schools in the UC System were required to drop standardized tests from their admissions considerations. The civil rights lawsuit alleges that the UC System knowingly created barriers to higher education for underrepresented minority students and students with disabilities. With the admissions scandal and lawsuits, these UC schools will need to reevaluate their admissions process and decide how they will admit students in the future. 

Holistic Admissions Approach

As a result, considerations for admission into colleges and universities have changed and continue to evolve. Many schools are taking a more holistic approach in which the whole applicant is considered. A holistic review usually involves the following: 

  • Essays and short response answers
  • Extracurricular activities
  • Special talents and passions you possess
  • Counselor and teacher recommendations
  • Rigor of high school coursework (AP courses)
  • Performance compared to other students in your class
  • Test scores (SAT, ACT, AP exams . . .)
  • Special circumstances (illness, disability, financial situation)
  • Trends over the course of your academic career (up or down)

When using a holistic approach, the goal is to evaluate the whole student and their eligibility. Universities and colleges want to know if the student will be successful in completing their first year of high-level academic work and also determine if they are a good fit for the school. A more holistic approach is attempting to get a more comprehensive and continuous picture of student achievement and long-term success.  

What Should Be Used To Access a Student’s Ability and Future?

Whether a college or university adopts test optional, test flexible, test blind, or uses a more holistic approach, every educator knows tests are only one tool out of many used to assess a student’s academic ability. In addition, assessments should never be used in isolation to determine a student’s ability or future. Regardless, all higher education institutions will still need to use some type of quantifiable and qualifiable data when reviewing college applications. Without some type of quantifiable data, biased opinions in college admissions will become rampant.

Economic Inequalities and Educational Inequities

Arguing over the college admissions process and scrapping the SAT or the ACT ignores the larger issues we have in society and education. These discussions are only smoke and mirrors for the real issue at hand. Geography and socioeconomic disparities play a huge part in access to educational resources. Not all students have access to AP courses at their high schools, access to the internet, money and resources to participate in extracurricular activities, private tutors for academics, and private tutors in preparation for the SAT or ACT. If the pandemic and admission scandal has provided us with anything, it has given us a platform to now discuss a system filled with inequities which ultimately filters into our educational system. The SAT nor the ACT are the initial barriers to higher education. These assessments are the ending result and simply mirror our larger society and the disparities within it. The initial barriers begin with geography, socioeconomic status and the resources provided. 

Ensuring Student Success Now and in the Future

Preparing our students for higher education begins at the preK-12 level and into high school. We must begin closing the funding and resource gaps that exist to get all of our students across the finish line. Many students do not have access to the same educational opportunities and resources as more privileged students and therefore will always struggle to compete unless we begin to make changes. Our focus now needs to be on leveling the playing field, developing sustainable solutions and ensuring all students receive an equitable education they all deserve.   

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