What does test-optional mean for Vt. college-bound students?

UVM is one of the schools that went test-optional in 2020, meaning their application didn’t require SAT or ACT scores.
Published: Oct. 12, 2022 at 8:39 AM EDT
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COLCHESTER, Vt. (WCAX) - The University of Vermont in 2020 joined a growing number of schools that have gone test-optional by not requiring incoming applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. The change was supposed to just be for three years, but officials have now decided to extend that until 2026 to gather data on student performance, retention and graduation rates. Local high school counselors and students say they welcome the change.

Eleventh graders in Vermont have spent every year of their high school career in a global pandemic. Colchester High School student Kieran Phillips attended hybrid classes in ninth grade and faced other pandemic restrictions as a sophomore.

“This year, we’re starting to ramp back up. They’re starting to expect like, we’re kind of coming out of this a little bit more day by day. So, getting more work, getting more homework, more tests, more things like that,” said Philips.

It’s a busy beginning of a busy year of high school with more rigorous classes and college preparations.

“Study for the SAT, get that done, do some questions submitted every night. Then, I’ve got AP biology stuff I’ve got to get done for tomorrow,” said Philips.

But not every college he’s interested in requires the SAT or ACT anymore. Many switched to test-optional when students didn’t have access to testing locations in 2020. Since then, some have reverted back. But not all.

“Most schools in their early data are finding they’re getting a more diverse pool of students, and I’m happy about it,” said Colchester High School guidance counselor team leader Bob Hall.

Hall says most students benefitted from schools’ test-optional status. But application numbers have jumped. Hall says Northeastern University’s applications jumped from 60,000 to 90,000 last year.

“That’s probably the only downside that our students saw was the massive increase in applications. But overall, in terms of evaluation-- a full transcript, three years of coursework is a much better estimate of what a student’s going to do in college than three, four-hour tests,” he said.

UVM has seen over a 60% increase in application volume since 2019. Director of admissions Moses Murphy attributes that jump to a lot of factors, not just their switch to test-optional two years ago. He says UVM has always preferred looking at applications holistically and they are watching how test-optional evolves.

“As we’ve gone through our evaluation process, we feel that we’re really able to identify those students who will be successful who will be a good fit, or who will add to our community, absence of standardized test score,” Murphy said.

Murphy says roughly half of the current first-year class applied test optional. While he says students are more likely to submit scores if they’re high, he encourages students to decide what’s best for them.

“There is no disadvantage should a student decide that they want to apply without submitting standardized test scores,” he said.

At UVM, there’s a section in the application where students can explain how the pandemic affected their application.

At Colchester High School, Hall says they’re encouraging students to do their research on the college’s average test score to see if sending a score would help them. He adds that every school has a different version of test-optional, and some colleges could require an exam for some majors and not others.

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