The COVID-19 pandemic completely transformed the college application process. Members of the class of 2025 applied, on average, to more schools likely due to the uncertain conditions caused by the pandemic. Students’ anxieties increased regarding distance from home in the event that family members got COVID-19. In-person campus tours became virtual videos. Individual financial and learning circumstances drastically changed. Yet one of the biggest and most positive changes to arise from the pandemic has been the decision by most colleges and universities to become test optional, which means that students are not required to submit SAT or ACT test results as a part of their application. Colleges and universities, including Princeton, should continue to remain test optional as we leave the pandemic era, as such policies allow for a more equitable admissions process for first-generation, low-income (FGLI) applicants.
The recent trend away from reliance on the SAT and ACT is a huge shift from pre-pandemic years, when these tests were perceived to be proof of college readiness. Yet this is an incorrect understanding of what these exams measure. Both the SAT and ACT simply require certain strategies, not a high level of intelligence, to perform well. Mastering these strategies and knowing how to approach these exams leads to success, and this can be accomplished by hiring tutors or taking preparatory classes. Wealthy students can pay thousands of dollars to have individualized tutoring for the SAT and ACT, a privilege that is largely inaccessible to their low income counterparts.
In my own experience, I can confidently say that without the opportunity to be in group tutoring for the SAT, I would have not performed as well. While low-income students can take advantage of virtual, free learning platforms such as Khan Academy to prepare for the SAT or ACT, they still cannot replace individualized tutoring because you lose the ability to interact with an experienced tutor and ask questions. These exams are more a measure of privilege than a measure of intelligence. Students can still submit test scores to be reviewed by Princeton during the admission process, but considering that not every student is required to submit one, the significance of test scores in determining admission has been greatly reduced.
Requiring the submission of standardized test results is not only harmful to FGLI applicants because it is more difficult for them to perform well on these exams, but also because the requirements deter them from applying in the first place. Before test optional policies, many college advice websites would advertise minimum test scores required for admission to highly selective schools, causing students who had lower scores, more likely to be FGLI, to refrain from applying. Test optional policies encourage everyone, regardless of their SAT or ACT performance, to at least apply and give themselves a fighting chance. By becoming test optional, Princeton removes a barrier for low income students who may have hesitated to apply had they been required to submit scores deemed too low for an Ivy League school.
Yet not only FGLI students benefit from removing the SAT. Many students have strengths which cannot be expressed numerically that they may want to focus on in their application. For example, there are some students whose learning styles prevent them from testing well in general. For these students, going test optional allows colleges to focus completely on the other components of their application that will be stronger, including GPA, extracurriculars, and essays.
Of course, although Princeton should continue to be test optional, test optional policies are insufficient in attracting FGLI students. Princeton’s Office of Admission needs to be constantly reflecting on how to make the application process more holistic and equitable for all students, and the University has to ensure that FGLI students are set up for success once they are accepted.
Ndeye Thioubou is a sophomore from the Bronx, N.Y. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.