In today's episode, I discuss the implications of Dartmouth College's recent decision to reinstate the standardized test (SAT or ACT) requirement next year.
Translation...you will be required to submit an SAT or ACT score. Just like the old days.
In other words, the gig is up!
I predict that nearly every other highly-selective college will soon revert back to requiring an SAT or ACT by next year (or the year thereafter).
Learn how this decision came about, when the other colleges will follow suit, and who will be the winners and losers in this ongoing drama.
Hello friends, and welcome back to the PrepWell Podcast. This week I want to discuss the implications of Dartmouth College's recent reactivation of their standardized test requirement starting next year. Translation This means that if you are a junior in high school right now, class of 2025 and you plan on applying to Dartmouth next year, you will be required to submit an SAT or ACT score.
Just like in the old days, no more test optional business. You must submit a test score. I know I've been harping on this issue for the last few months in particular and imploring you to stay disciplined in your SAT and ACT preparations despite the test optional shenanigans that continue ad nauseum. Because I knew this was going to happen.
It was just a matter of time and I wanted you to keep your eye on the ball and I hope that you did because the time is nigh. If you've been listening to my recommendations and you haven't surrendered to the test optional scam and you're ready to put your academic bona fides to the test, so to speak, now is your time.
Ding Dong The Wicked Witch is almost dead. And my prediction is that Yale University will be the next domino to fall. And then most of the highly selective colleges and the Ivy League schools will follow suit. Why is this happening? Why are colleges now, finally, at long last in 2024, reverting back to requiring the SAT or ACT score because the test optional policy, if you recall, was instituted out of necessity four years ago because of a worldwide pandemic, But it has since been hijacked and extended by most colleges year after year to support other unrelated ideological agendas, which have shown in many ways to the unsustainable and disastrous for all involved, as we will discuss.
In other words, the gig is finally up. So I'd like to do a quick recap of how we got to where we are today. Why Dartmouth's decision will be a catalyst for many other colleges to follow over the coming months and years. And who will be the winners and losers? Let's start with how did we get here? We all remember back in 2020 when COVID and the global pandemic swept across the country and the world.
Schools were shut down, businesses were forced to close their doors. People were told to stay in their homes and all the rest that legitimately prevented students from taking standardized tests in many states, even if they really wanted to take the tests because there were no open testing centers. So the idea was to quote unquote, pause the requirement for an SAT or ACT score temporarily because it didn't seem fair to require a test that 70% of the country wasn't physically able to take.
Fair enough. Then the pandemic ended and schools open back up and businesses came back online and all the students had access to testing centers. Once again, access was no longer an issue. That's when the problem started, because most colleges chose not to reactivate the testing requirement and instead chose to extend their test optional policies year after year or to make them permanent.
Or, in California's case, go even further and institute an indefinite test blind policy, which meant you couldn't submit an SAT or an ACT score even if you wanted to. Now you might be scratching your head and wondering, why did these colleges keep extending these policies over and over again? Why not revert back to requiring an SAT or an ACT score now that every student has access to testing centers?
Once again, why not go back to the way it was for the last 40 years? Unfortunately, after the George Floyd incident in 2020 and the rampant, unchecked rioting, looting, murder and destruction in the streets that followed, to call attention to what many called systemic racism in the police force, the whole country was in upheaval. Racial and political tensions were peaking.
And in order not to let a good crisis go to waste, colleges and universities seized on this divisive political climate to further their own long held ideological agendas, which were tied to the concept of social justice and DIY diversity, equity and inclusion. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to dismantle the conventional admissions process, which historically was based on merit and accomplishment and demonstrated competence and replace it with DIY once and for all.
Because the DIY and social justice mission, which over the last few decades had become higher, education's most prized goal was all about creating a quote unquote diverse student body on campus at almost any cost. By admitting significantly greater percentages of students from underrepresented minority groups, blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, LGBTQ air plus first gen students. Whether or not those students had the requisite merit, academic readiness was not a high priority.
It was a golden opportunity to admit students based on the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, their economic circumstances, their alleged historic oppression, or other unrepresentative traits without having to consider an SAT or an ACT score. This was the Holy Grail for higher education and a gift that they would not give up without a fight. By eliminating the requirement to submit an SAT or ACT score.
And with rampant grade inflation, especially since COVID, nearly every student could be considered a viable candidate for almost any school, no matter how unprepared the student was or how academically rigorous the school was. And this went on for years, relatively unchecked, because nobody could say anything about it without being labeled a racist or a white supremacist and all the rest.
Colleges did whatever they had to do to justify extending the test optional policy again and again, hoping that this new paradigm would become the new norm. Mind you, this wasn't the case for every college. There were some colleges that never went test optional or quickly reverted back to test required as soon as humanly possible. That included the military service academies like the Naval Academy, West Point.
Coast Guard Academy. Merchant Marine Academy. Purdue. Georgetown. Several public flagship schools in the Southeast, like Florida and famously M.I.T., who quickly realized that the students they admitted without test scores, were failing, quitting or transferring schools within weeks of arriving on campus. Well, four years later, after a lot of media cover and political cover. Data collection and analysis, lessons learned and a ton of collateral damage to schools and students and reputations, the gig is finally up.
Colleges are finally realizing that no matter how much cover they get from the media or politicians or donors or their political allies, they just cannot keep up the charade any longer. And Dartmouth College happened to be the first Ivy League school to come out and say so publicly. And believe me, the evidence that this test optional D-I social justice experiment was a failure must be monumental because colleges and higher education have been waiting for an opportunity like this to reshape the process of college admissions and the makeup of college campuses for decades.
And thanks to COVID and George Floyd and the political climate, they finally had their excuse to do it and to perpetuate it for years and years and years with a lot of media and political cover. And believe me, they would have done anything in their power to institutionalize this new admissions paradigm and not cede any of the ground they worked so hard to conquer.
The fact that colleges are giving up on this gift is very significant and worthy of our attention. Why did the experiment fail? Why did Dartmouth's kicking and screaming finally have to admit that enough was enough, that they just couldn't support the scam any longer, that they needed to revert back to a system that actually worked? As you can imagine, there are many compelling reasons.
Reason number one, to many applications, once the most historically significant, relevant and objective measure of academic strength and predictor of success in college, the SAT or ACT was no longer required. Every student with a 3.5 GPA or better decided to apply to every highly selective college. And why shouldn't they? Without a standardized test to differentiate applicants, why not give it a shot?
This led to an unimaginable surge in applications that colleges could not handle, no matter how many new application readers they hired. Number two not enough data. Not only did colleges not have the personnel to evaluate the insane uptick in applications, but there wasn't enough data to separate the wheat from the chaff with such similarity in grades and extracurriculars and essay quality.
And with so few objective measures of achievement and academic merit, admissions officers had a terrible time finding the students who showed the most promise, academic and otherwise. And when they leaned into the D-I pool of applicants with the hope that things would work out or that no one would notice, things didn't work out and people did notice. Reason number three.
It was unfair to students, families and counselors. The Test optional policy and the wordsmithing that colleges resorted to to make it seem like you would not be disadvantaged if you did not submit a test score was a master class in doublespeak and obfuscation. Did anyone really ever believe that a student who did not submit an SAT score would be looked at?
Exactly the same as a similarly credentialed student with a 1580 on the SAT? That's just ludicrous. But the colleges had to keep the charade up to keep the D-I applications flowing. Unfortunately, this created a lot of confusion and angst and disillusionment for students, for families, for high school counselors who didn't know what type of advice to give. Should I submit a score?
Should I not submit a score? Will it affect me? Will not affect me. It's a total cluster. Reason number four It makes it impossible to build a college list with colleges like UCLA getting 150,000 applications and other schools receiving triple the applications that they used to. How is a student supposed to create a balanced list of colleges if they have no objective historical measure that indicates how they will stack up against the rest of the student body at any particular college?
Back in the day, way back in 2019, you could pretty quickly figure out what tier of colleges you fit into based on where your SAT score stood compared to a typical incoming class. Not anymore. Now that the SAT scores optional or forbidden, you can't really tell anymore if you're a good fit for a school. By looking at the SAT scores of students who were admitted in the past and were presumably successful at these colleges.
You have no frame of reference, and if you're a D-I candidate, does that mean that you should shoot higher than you normally would? Because you can expect to be pushed through no matter your credentials? There's simply no longer a practical way of figuring out what schools are rich schools and match schools and safety schools, particularly for students without D-I credentials.
Reason number five. It promoted disengagement. Dare I say laziness. When students got word that the SAT was optional, many celebrated. If it was optional, they would just opt out. They knew what optional meant. This led to years and years of students who decided that it wasn't worth their time to study and prepare for any standardized test. Why should they?
After all, it's not required, and colleges are swearing up and down that they won't be disadvantaged if they don't turn one in. Unfortunately, the process of creating and sticking to a study plan for a big consequential standardized test is a life skill that teenagers need to have to be successful in college and in life and in a career.
And many high schoolers gave that up. This policy gave students a license to be lazy, to be unengaged, to be indifferent, apathetic, and to sit out that entire part of the high school academic experience. And what a shame. Pair that with inflated grades and lowered standards and you have a recipe for high school graduates who are far less prepared for college than ever before.
Reason number six. Unprepared Colleges are reporting that students who are admitted primarily because of their DUI and demographic traits, they're black, they're Hispanic, they're low income, Native American, LGBTQ, I A-plus first gen students and without regard for an SAT or ACT score are struggling. Many are failing. They're changing majors. They're dropping out. They're transferring. They can't handle the workload.
As I said earlier and I see MIT saw this immediately and reverted back to a test required policy admitting students because of DTI and social justice pressure without data, suggesting that the students can handle the academic rigors was a ticking time bomb that finally went off. Most honest people knew that this was an unsustainable admissions practice and that it was just a matter of time before the shame was exposed.
But the power players and the world of higher education decided to hold their breath and pray that it would last long enough to become institutionalized. And they finally ran out of air. Reason number seven dashed hopes. There were many students who rode the D-I social justice wave into colleges of their dreams, thinking this was going to be their ticket to fame and fortune.
And why not take advantage of the situation only to find out that they were not ready for the academics? This wreaks havoc on their lives. They're out of college that they can't handle. They're losing confidence by the week. They're not among their peers and they're not sure where to turn, reads the number eight. It taints the truly gifted by admitting unprepared, unvetted students not based on merit, but because they satisfy certain DUI targets.
It harms students from these very same demographics who are actually well prepared, gifted and capable, who are admitted because of merit. How does black student A with a 1570 on her SATs feel when she's painted with the same brush as another black student? B who didn't bother taking the SAT at all and is now failing out of college because she couldn't handle the workload?
Will people then automatically question black Students A's credentials? Will they think that she was a D-I admit as well, even though she wasn't? That's a burden that she should not have to bear. She should be confident that she's there because she belongs, because she has proven her merit, not because she helps shaped the pie chart on how many people of color were admitted to X, Y, Z University.
Reason number nine Companies have lost trust in college graduates. After decades of hiring college graduates from highly selective colleges with great success and expecting them to perform well. The opposite is now happening. Colleges pressuring professors to lower their academic standards in order to cover for the low performing DTI. Students are pushing these students through graduation at all costs.
And thus, once rock solid college graduates that companies could count on as high performers are becoming terrible hires. Many don't read and write well. They are entitled. They create H.R. issues. They're quick to protest any perceived injustices. Their liabilities. Colleges cannot afford to turn out worse and worse product. Reason number ten. Leaving Merit Scholarship money on the table.
Most merit scholarships are tied to a student's SAT or ACT score, often along with their GPA. For the students who opted to sit out the S.A.T. for any number of reasons that we've talked about. It's possible that they're leaving tons of merit scholarship money on the table that they otherwise may have had a shot at. If you don't take the S.A.T., you are not in the running for merit scholarships attached to S.A.T. performance.
With all of this in mind, I can tell you right now that the presidents and admissions officers at many highly selective colleges and universities out there are in full scale panic mode right now. They are not sleeping well. Now that Dartmouth has cracked the seal. They are on the clock. The pressure is now on for them to come out with a public statement of some kind or a policy change or both explaining what they plan to do.
Now, the indefinite cycle of test optional policy extensions is over. Many of these policies are expiring for the third or fourth year, and now it will be a lot more difficult to justify extending them yet again. They are panicked not because they're unsure whether or not they should reactivate the standardized testing requirement. That much is clear. That's inevitable.
They are panicking because they need to craft a perfect message, a message for the world to see and to scrutinize. That somehow obscures the fact, the reality that the DIY social justice experiment in college admissions was an abject failure, and that merit, also known as an SAT or an A.C.T. score, should be reinstituted as one of the primary drivers of admissions decisions.
A statement said as plainly as that would set the entire world on fire. So they need to tread carefully in today's environment. That is a tough needle to thread. If you were a university president. If not worded perfectly, a college's policy could cause a lot of blowback or worse. Think about what happened a few weeks ago to Claudine Gay, the disgraced former Harvard University president, and how two or three sentences she delivered in a congressional hearing about free speech at Harvard not only cost her her job and reputation, but cost the Harvard Endowment hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars, and absolutely destroyed the reputation and the credibility of the Harvard name the world over. Maybe forever. These other college presidents do not want to meet a similar fate when it comes to their college admissions policies. They have to be extremely careful about how they articulate their rationale for reactivating the test requirement, the data they choose to disclose or hide or obfuscate. They are on very thin ice because those who are pushing the D-Ii agenda across all institutions are going to be paying very close attention to every word, and they will be ready to pounce.
College leaders will have to explain how they intend to reinstate the testing filter without impeding their all important DEI related goals. They must make the case that their reversion to the old test required policy will still have a positive effect on diversity on campuses or they will get destroyed. I think there actually is an argument that makes this case, but colleges will have a hard time articulating it.
They will likely not show any data to support their position, if at all possible, or the data will be delivered in a very, very careful way. So how does all of this craziness affect you, the student? If you are a junior, sophomore, freshman or younger, you now must assume that the SAT and ACT will be required yet again.
At most colleges, not all, but many, especially the more selective colleges. You can also assume that California, the most progressive state in the Union, will happily keep their test blind policy. But I would not see that as a positive. It just means that you're competing against 150,000 plus other students. So get back on track with preparing for one of these standardized tests if you haven't been already.
The fantasy of not having to take one is now officially over. And by the way, let's not make that big a deal of it. It's just a test. If you start preparing early enough, you're going to rock and roll on the thing to the best of your ability. And when you get your score back, you'll know where you stand for good or for bad.
You'll know what schools to target. You'll know where students with scores like you actually get in and do well. This is a good thing. It brings more clarity. And if you're not happy with your score and you want to move up a tier of colleges, then get back to work and take it again. This is a great motivator.
Hopefully, this will bring merit back into the college admissions system. This will mean that the students who attend a particular college actually deserve to be there, not because of the color of their skin or some other D-I checkmark, but because of their competence and their academic promise. Hopefully big companies will come back to campus and recruit as the quality of the undergrads goes back up to pretty high levels and maybe you get a higher SAT score that will score you some merit money.
Wouldn't that be great? All of you prep boilers will see this over and over again in your weekly video, So I hope you're watching. But as a reminder, if you are a sophomore and you are strong in math, you should be focused on studying for the SAT or the act this summer with the goal of taking an official test and the early fall of your junior year.
And then never taking it again. Please reach out to me in the next 1 to 2 months to get scheduled for an at home free practice. SAT and asked to see where you stand. Once you figure out which test you do better on, you should then lock it in and set up a study plan for the summer. The gig is up, folks.
The city is back. Get back to studying for it and use it to your advantage. That's all I've got for you today, folks. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. In case you didn't know, this podcast supports prep academies online mentoring program where high schoolers and their parents receive weekly videos from me, where I break down important topics and give timely advice about college admissions, particularly for top tier colleges, service academies, and for ROTC and athletic scholarships.
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PrepWell Academy's Founder, Phil Black, has spent a lifetime cracking the code on the world's most competitive programs: Yale University, Harvard Business School, Navy SEALs, Goldman Sachs, Entrepreneurship, Shark Tank (2X), etc.
Inside PrepWell Academy, Black teaches students everything they need to know about the college admissions process in a series of expertly-timed, 3-5-minute, weekly training videos starting in 9th grade and continuing through 12th grade [Note: this program can only be joined in 9th or 10th grade]. My specialties include military service academies, ROTC scholarships, Ivy League, and student-athletes.