PrepWell Podcast


Ep. 216 | Yale Goes Back To Test-required. Anyone Else?

Dartmouth and Yale recently reverted back to test-required policies for standardized testing. Will other schools follow suit, maintain, or go the opposite direction?

In today's episode, I discuss how Dartmouth's recent decision to return to a test-required policy for the SAT/ACT has influenced other schools.

As I predicted last week, Yale has now returned to a test-required policy as well. They call their policy test-flexible.

Columbia has gone in the opposite direction and proudly announced that they are making their test-optional policy permanent.

Harvard and Cornell are kicking the can down the road for another year and keeping test-optional in place.

University of California schools still refuse to accept any test scores (test-blind).

What is going on here?

What does any of this mean?

What should my child do?

Listen to today's podcast to get some guidance.

Show Transcript:

Hello, friends. Welcome back to the Prep podcast. If you listen to last week's episode, you may remember that I got pretty tactical. I discussed what juniors in high school could do specifically for the next 4 to 5 months to beef up their extracurricular activities list, especially if it was looking a bit mediocre. And I refer to this as an extracurricular cheat code.

This week I want to get more strategic, maybe even a little philosophical, because the admissions landscape is becoming so disjointed and so rife with politics and confusion and virtue signaling and hedging that it's almost unrecognizable compared to just a few years ago. I don't want to spend too much time on the underlying motives for the latest round of policy tweaks, especially as it relates to standardized test requirements.

But I do think you should have a general idea of what's going on out there so that, one, you can be informed about the state of higher education before you become a consumer of it. For potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars to because it may impact how your child prepares for or doesn't prepare for this process starting in eighth or ninth grade.

And number three, it may even call into question whether this obsession with college and elite colleges is even worth it anymore. That's a much deeper question that I may have to take up at a later date. Just a review. We all by now know that since COVID, many schools went from test required to test optional when it came to the SAT or ACT, we all know that the pandemic and the lack of access to testing centers is what precipitated this dramatic almost overnight change and that extending these policies for years and years and years, even after the pandemic was long gone, was more about politics and an ideology that appears to be intent on downgrading, if not eliminating the use of standardized test scores and other measures of merit in the college admissions process. Well, after four years of experimentation, the dam has finally broken to some extent, and a few schools are raising their hands and saying that the experiment failed and that they can no longer in good conscience make sensible admissions decisions without an objective measure that shows true academic readiness for college, like the SAT or the ACT does.

GPAs are simply not good enough anymore. For example, just a few weeks ago, Dartmouth famously, some people might say, infamously reverted back to the traditional test required policy for the SAT and the A.C.T., which created a lot of turbulence in the higher education realm. Schools like Amity, Georgetown, Purdue, the military service academies, many state schools in Florida, they had made this decision long ago.

But since Dartmouth was the first Ivy League school to pull the trigger, it got a lot of attention and people wondered what this might mean for other highly selective colleges. And as I predicted last week, Yale followed suit and now also requires a standardized test for admissions. It's required, but not every school is falling in line. Other Ivy League schools went in the total opposite direction.

Columbia, for example, went the other way. They said that they proudly will remain test optional indefinitely. Cornell and Harvard kick the can down the road and extended the test optional policy for another year just to keep their options open. And just as a reminder, you see schools, University of California schools are test blind. They will continue to be test blind, which means that the admissions officers are prohibited from seeing test scores, even if you want to show them.

In other words, it's complete chaos and pandemonium. There's no uniformity. There's no common ground. There's no common understanding, even among the tightly bound ivy League schools. So just so that everyone is on the same page, this is the mix of options right now when it comes to standardized testing policies. Number one test required. This is the policy that was in place for decades and decades prior to COVID and prior to George Floyd.

And that policy said in order to apply, you must submit an SAT or an ACT score. Other schools in the same camp are, as I mentioned earlier, the military service academies. Georgetown, MIT, Yale and a handful of others. As of today, there's still a vanishingly small number of schools that have adopted this policy. At least for now. Who knows how many more schools, if any, will revert back to the standard.

The jury is still out. Option number two is test optional. This is the now popular consensus policy that allows applicants to decide whether or not they want to submit their SAT or ACT score if they even took the test. It's up to them. This is the most widely used policy right now. It has become the new normal. Option number three is test blind.

As we talked about the U.S. system, University of California system, huge public school system in California is well known for adopting a test blind policy years ago whereby admissions officers are not allowed to consider SAT and ACT scores. No matter how well you did. They don't care about these scores and they don't want to see them. And lastly, this new option test flexible.

This is Yale's newest derivative of the test required policy, which says that a standardized test score must be submitted. But it doesn't have to be the S.A.T. or the ACT. It could also be an AP exam or an IB exam, the International Baccalaureate exam score. This is a hybrid model. These are the core four options right now. And I'm not going to dwell on the reasons behind this complete patchwork mess of policies, but I just want to relate a few of the reasons for the mess.

Number one, many people believe that the SAT and the ACT tests are racist because minority students don't do as well as white students, and thus they want to see the tests go away forever. The first step in this process is to go test optional and then ultimately test blind. So most schools are halfway there at this point. They believe that an objective test that measures academic readiness for college should not be part of the college admissions decisions.

Number two, many colleges are captured by ideological stakeholders like donors, professors, students, alumni, whose main mission is to promote D-I diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education at all costs. And they will not give up the ground they have gained and revert back to a time where objective measures like the SAT and A.C.T. were considered in admissions decisions.

They're going to fight tooth and nail to protect their gains, even if it degrades the quality and the competence and the readiness of the student body. Number three, many colleges love the test optional policies, and they are loathe to give that up because it has quadrupled the number of applications they receive, which means that they have to reject four times more students, which means that they look more elite and they look more selective.

And that helps them in the rankings because they have a perception of being super elite and super selective. So they are very hesitant to give that up. Number four, schools like U.S. schools, are sticking with test blind, not because they think it's a better way to find the best students, but because they get outsized political credit for being so committed to the D-I mission.

And you might wonder why they just don't stick with test optional. Why not allow students with strong SAT scores to show them while other students can choose not to? Because if they collect the SAT and ACT scores at all, even if they make it optional, then they'd be subject to someone requesting this data and doing an analysis that would likely be unfavorable to their agenda.

But if they don't collect any data at all, then no one can study the results. Number five many college administrators and leaders are simply risk averse. It's just easier to hedge their bets to not make any waves. To maintain the test optional policy, which is the ultimate hedge. Despite the confusion, the anxiety, and the poor admissions decisions that result, they need to protect their career.

And sticking their neck out on this issue is, in some views, a death sentence for them. And number six, relatedly, many college presidents and board members and admissions officers are scared to death of losing their career, their friends, their lucrative consulting gigs, their place in the social hierarchy. If they turn their back on the most entrenched movement in 50 years, the DIY movement, even if they don't agree with the test optional policy and they know that it's doing obvious harm to the students and the school's reputation and donations and the like, they simply cannot bring themselves to say enough is enough.

They lack the courage. The tug of self-preservation is just too strong. And lastly, number seven, even schools that take a hard look at the same data can interpret the data differently. One college says that requiring test scores will help with diversity and another says the exact opposite that it hinders diversity. Again, note that the explanation as to why schools intend to reinstate a test required policy versus sticking with the test optional policy always revolves primarily around what it means for the D-I movement.

There's little discussion on what it means for the quality of the education, the reputation of the college, the competence of the graduating students, the trust in the institution. It all comes down to what it will mean for diversity, and that's why we're left with a disjointed patchwork of four different policies. With more to come, I'm sure with no uniformity, all designed to satisfy each institution's particular constituencies and mission and desire for self-preservation of the people in charge.

That's where we are right now. And if you've been paying attention to the news, you can see that this exact issue that is D-I is playing itself out in nearly every other important policy out there. And the same chaotic rules apply. So what are your children supposed to do? First off, they should do well in school. They're never going to go wrong by crushing their grades.

I know that sounds old fashioned these days, but it's true. Ignore all of this noise and just buckle down in your classes and get good grades. Number two, study for the S.A.T. or the act like kids have done for decades. I know that sounds crazy, but it's not. It's an important skill to develop. I know there's been this general malaise that has come over any talk about SAT and act preparation.

But you need to get over that and get back to work. I know that the two years of Zoom school has reset the bar for a lot of students out there, but it's time to get over it. Number three, study for your AP and IB exams if you have them. Don't worry about which schools will require it or which won't require it.

It's going to be a moving target for years anyway just to prepare and do the best you can on them. And lastly, don't give up. There are many students, especially in California, who have completely given up on preparing for standardized tests because they claim that they're only going to apply to U.S. schools which are test blind. So if the school is test blind, why bother studying for either test?

If the U.S. schools are not allowed to see them anyway, how convenient. Right. There may be tens of thousands of students, maybe more. UCLA alone gets 150,000 applications who are intent only not studying for a standardized test or any standardized test for that matter, because it's not looked at by U.S. schools. Think about the amount of brainpower and the potential that is being wasted because of this policy.

Millions and millions of hours of study and preparation and learning just disappeared poof overnight because of one state's policy. The bottom line is this unless you are a junior in high school right now, in which case it does matter to some degree, these different policies. Please ignore all of these ever changing standardized test policies. Ignore everything. It will probably change once you get into the breach anyway.

Instead of worrying about any of this, put all of your energy into your classwork and preparing for an SAT and act, an AP exam and I.B. exam that will be your best use of time and your best use of energy. Work on what you can control and please do not make the bet that the U.S. test blind policy will become the national standard over the next few years.

I pray that it does not. But you shouldn't concern yourself with these issues until the end of your junior year, and then I can help you figure out what to do with the best of what you have. That's your only goal. Do the best that you can do and let the chips fall where they may after that. That's all I've got for you today, folks.

Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for your continued support. Case you didn't know This podcast supports Prep Academy's 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. Many parents who listen to this podcast already have their high schoolers enrolled in Prep Academy, which is great.

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Podcast Host:

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.

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