Havoc in having to apply

The class of 2021’s unprecedented college admissions


Photo courtesy “Cal Poly classroom” by mellen_petrich is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Creative Commons

Emma Kelly, Author

College applicants for the 2021 school year are facing an unprecedented college admissions climate with SAT cancellations, cancelled campus visits, and remote academic advising due to the pandemic. Many colleges and universities are adopting modified policies for this year only in hopes of alleviating difficulties for their applicants. Unlike years past, a large majority of schools are accepting applications void of college entrance exams like the SAT or ACT, and for those students who plan on submitting scores, are extending their score acceptance deadlines. 

The changes in entrance exam score requirements, specifically, is an effort by universities to contribute to the health and safety of students. Should students feel unsafe taking an exam in a public setting, they are not required to do so. And should a student be unable to take an exam due to capacity issues, their application will not be negatively affected. Even top universities like MIT and Stanford have removed scores from their necessary application requirements. According to the MIT admissions website, “We will not require either the SAT or the ACT from first-year or transfer applicants applying this cycle. We expect this to be a one-year suspension of our usual requirements”,  but notably include that, “Students who have already taken the SAT/ACT are encouraged to report their scores with the understanding that they help us more accurately evaluate their preparedness for MIT.” 

Due to these changes, applicants who have taken exams are left with yet another factor to possibly game the admissions process with. Should they submit their scores if they are sub par, or attempt to be admitted under the test optional policy? Despite the test optional setting, hundreds of thousands of students are still attempting to take the SAT in particular. However, hundreds of thousands more have been denied. In an article by Inside Higher Ed, they report, “Of the 334,000 students registered to take the SAT on Sept. 26, 183,000 will not be able to take the test. And of the 363,000 registered to take the SAT or the SAT Subject Tests on Oct. 3, 154,000 will be unable to do so.” And for the students who are able to take the test, the testing climate has been noticeably altered. 

Senior Emma Patane attended the September 26 exam administration. Patane explains, “Upon arriving at the test center, only one student was allowed in the building at a time to register/sign in. I had to wear a mask for the whole test. All of the desks were very spread out and there were only nine students in the classroom I was testing in. They also checked everyone’s masks to make sure nothing was written on the inside.” Even after taking the exam, Patane agrees with many students who are in favor of the test optional admissions climate saying, “I am very grateful that colleges have decided to be test optional this year. I think it would be unfair if they weren’t because so many seniors are losing their opportunities to test due to something that is beyond their control.”

Unlike Patane’s smooth experience with the SAT this fall, senior Carrie Morrel took the August 29 SAT and experienced first hand some of the issues with modified administration of the test. Morrel says, “My SAT date got changed 3 times, and the location was changed 3 times as well. I eventually had to call College Board, and the school I was taking my SAT at, to make sure it wasn’t cancelled due to an email falsely claiming that it was, sent out by College Board. I have heard about a lot of students struggling with the same issue.” 

In response to the mass number of students, particularly in the Northern Virginia area where SAT administration numbers tend to be very high, Prince William County Schools have decided to offer a school administered SAT to its seniors for the first time. The county sent out an email stating, “As Saturday test sites are controlled by the College Board and allow students to register to test on a first come, first serve basis, regardless of where they live, we have heard increasing concern that our students have been denied or restricted from taking the SAT tests at schools in the division. In order to address this need, this year only, PWCS will be offering an SAT School Day option for our seniors. SAT School Day allows our division to test only our students, at no cost, ensuring that every student who wishes to test, may do so.” For many students, this is a breath of relief as they will be able to add another data point to their application, and in an unprecedented year of admissions, that may be the best they can do.