Beginning with the University of California, currently over half of the four-year-degree colleges and universities in the US have done away with the SAT or ACT (American College Test) scores for admissions to courses starting in Fall 2021.
Over 1,200 institutions — including top universities like Brown, Caltech, Carnegie Mellon, Columbia, the University of Virginia and Yale — have said the use of the test scores would be optional. Some, like the University of Virginia, have said this policy could continue beyond this year’s admissions.
Their decision comes after a 2019 lawsuit said the college entrance tests were biased against poor, and mainly Black and Hispanic, students. The petitioners alleged that basing admissions on the test allowed the system to illegally discriminate on the basis of students’ race, wealth and disability.
However, apart from US universities, multiple Indian universities also grant admission on the basis of the SAT. This includes IIM-Ranchi for their Integrated Programme in Management, and private universities like Ashoka, NMIMS in Mumbai, and Manipal among others. For now, they continue to accept the test results for admission.
Jamie Beaton, co-founder and CEO of Crimson Education, says that for international students, standardised test scores, like the SAT or ACT, are quite valuable.
“Long story short, I actually think that it’s a bit sad for international students,” said Beaton, whose firm helps international students get admission into US and UK universities. He said SAT helps because universities in the US aren’t familiar with Indian schools and nuances of India’s education system. “The SAT lets a student from a far-flung city in India apply and have this kind of international standard of quality. So when you strip that away, it kind of does hurt them a little bit,” he added.
“Not considering the SAT will disadvantage some students who may be really good, talented students,” explained Beaton.
The SAT helps standardise things for admission officers at universities, and Crimson Education is recommending that international students should take the test, even if it’s optional.
Sonya Ghandy Mehta, school director of the Pathways School, Aravali said that 2021 could be a tough year for Indian students aspiring to pursue graduate courses in the US. “Test-optional or test-flexible admissions might put Indian students at a disadvantage for merit-based scholarships, though some schools will consider the applications despite no SAT or ACT scores,” she said.
Mehta said test-flexible admissions could be beneficial since they will allow applicants to demonstrate their talents in other ways. She said she is seeking further clarity on how US universities pick students in the absence of these test scores.
However, Delhi-based career counsellor Pervin Malhotra said that US universities shying away from considering SAT and ACT scores could help Indian students. “The school education system in India doesn’t help in preparation for SAT and students have to prepare separately. Therefore, this move by the US universities would be helpful for international students,” she said.
Malhotra said US universities need international students, and parents have been wary of sending their children to foreign universities due to the pandemic. Universities will look to make things easier for international students in the short-term since courses are largely being conducted online, he said. “Scholarship decisions will also not be affected as there is always a separate quota for international scholarships,” Malhotra said.
Mehta from Pathways School said that test-optional and test-flexible admissions were used earlier by some universities and do offer some benefits. “Standardised test scores can’t adequately demonstrate the abilities of all students. In this case, school grades, extracurricular activities, and community involvement might better reflect the students’ likelihood of succeeding in college,” she said.
“Standardized test scores can’t adequately demonstrate the abilities of all students. In this case, school grades, extracurricular activities, and community involvement might better reflect the students’ likelihood of succeeding in college,” she said.
The College Board in the US, which conducts the SAT, said that the exam was intended to increase access to colleges and that remains its mission. And it isn’t opposed to the decision taken by multiple universities.
“The College Board supports colleges introducing more flexibility and choice into the admissions process through test-optional policies,” said Priscilla Rodriguez, vice president of college readiness assessments at the College Board.
Rodriguez told TOI that some students may find their applications are stronger without the test scores while some will benefit from sending them.