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SAT/ACT/CLT in Time of COVID: Seton College Partners Speak Out


Is the SAT/ACT/CLT required for college entrance in 2021? We asked Seton College Partners for insight into their policies in this vastly different year.

Early this past summer, a task force of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) issued a report of interest to families with college-bound students.

The report was supposed to address the inequalities faced by lower income students when preparing for standardized college admissions tests.

Ensuring All Students Have Access to Higher Education: The Role of Standardized Testing in the Time of COVD-19 and Beyond took an unexpected turn.

Some background, the tests are heavily skewed in favor of higher income students whose parents can afford expensive test prep classes and tutors. To address that, the NACAC was seeking solutions to bring about changes in the admissions processes of colleges and universities.

While the review of standardized testing was taking place, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived.

This further complicated admissions procedures as these tests are no longer available in many cities and states. Students are being forced to travel hundreds of miles, incur travel expenses, and endure quarantine restrictions and contact tracing. Finally, their exam may be canceled at the last minute.

The New Landscape

Never has the college admissions process been under such scrutiny and challenged to change with current conditions. The NACAC report does not come out and say that test scores should not be used. But it makes clear that a change is overdue and the global health crisis has accelerated that need.

In this year of limited test availability, the report asks institutions to explain all exceptions to test-optional policies. The explanation should apply to both admissions and scholarship opportunities.

The report also urges colleges and universities to make decisions that consider the public good, are student-centered, and focus on overall student success.

Seton College Partner Panel

We gathered a panel of admissions professionals from Seton College Partners to provide some insight. Specifically,  how these changing policies, in this vastly different year, impact your student’s college admission process.

How does the SAT/ACT currently figure into your admissions process with limited access to the tests due to the pandemic?

Mr. Pete Helgesen,
Dean of Enrollment Management,
Benedictine College

“It has been a frustrating process for students and we feel awfully bad for them this year. Students have gone through a lot to try to take the exam and often they just cannot. To address that, Benedictine has implemented a test optional process. It is designed to be user friendly, understandable, and can accommodate scholarships for the applicant.”

Mr. Sam Philips,
Director of Admissions,
Christendom College

“Christendom College is still requiring a standardized test for admission. The Classical Learning Test (CLT) is available to be taken online and is therefore a good option for students wishing to attend Christendom. The CLT lines up with our philosophy of education very well and this gives our admissions committee an apple to apple comparison when evaluating a student  for admission.”

Ms. Monique Rivers,
Assistant Director of Admissions,
Ave Maria University

“We understand the difficulty students are having regarding scheduling the ACT/SAT due to COVID-19. Therefore, the ACT, SAT, and CLT are optional for the Fall and Spring of 2021.”

Mr. Michael Probus,
Director of Admissions,
University of Dallas

“UD uses a holistic review of our applicants, and there is no minimum GPA or test score requirement for admission. We are test optional for admission and test blind for our academic merit scholarship. The academic & personal environment of the student, their writing samples, the rigor of their high school curriculum are arguably more important for us to know during the review process than test scores for this year.”

Do you have any recommendations as to how students should proceed when applying to college without taking the traditional standardized tests?

Ms. Rivers – “When applying to Ave Maria University, students should submit all high school transcripts. The Admissions Counselor will determine whether additional documents, such as letters of recommendation, are required based on the student’s GPA. However, we do recommend students to take a standardized test if possible, as it can help applicants with both institutional scholarships and outside scholarship opportunities. We also recommend students who have a classical learning academic background look into the Classical Learning Test (CLT) since it can be administered remotely.”

Mr. Helgesen – “Benedictine is largely making decisions based upon the high school transcript, but we are encouraging students to schedule interviews (when possible), send in letters of recommendation, and even writing an extra essay. We really have the students in mind, and we are trying not to create extra barriers in an already stressful time.”

Mr. Probus – “If students are unable to take the test, I would highly recommend focusing on your writing samples. This is not a time to be shy, and the context clues you share help admission committees truly understand who you are as a person. Take time preparing your essays, writing supplements, and don’t forget to list part-time job or club activities.”

Are students who do not take the SAT or other exams looked upon less favorably by the admissions committee than those who were able to sit for the exam?

Ms. Rivers – “No applicant is looked upon less favorably for opting not to take the exams. We are happy that we can speed up the admissions process by granting an admissions decision to students as we receive their transcript.”

Mr. Helgesen – “No, not at Benedictine. Colleges are going to have to be flexible, so they are not going to look less favorably on those candidates.”

Mr. Probus – “When students are applying to college, we are looking at your high school body of work. The test score, in some ways, represents just a quick snapshot of a point in time whereas a student’s high school transcript shows their academic growth over three years.”

Mr. Probus continues, “In previous years, the test score would generally line up closely with a student’s GPA. A high performing student would normally get an excellent test result and a low performing student generally would receive low marks on their test. The test score isn’t going to change who you were overnight. Students who have good study habits, persistence and grit, their application will shine through to admission committees.”

More Changes Ahead?

As of this writing, about 1,600 colleges and universities have announced their policy of being test optional for the 2020 admissions season. Many are reviewing admissions procedures going forward based upon the class that will attend their institutions in the fall of 2021. Are they well adjusted and able to be successful? It will be interesting to see how the college application process changes in the coming years, pushed ahead by the pandemic. It might be time to rethink the role of standardized testing in higher education and college admissions.

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