Recent Trends in College Admissions Testing 

In the past several weeks, we’ve seen a number of high-profile colleges and universities announce plans to reinstate standardized testing requirements in the admissions process, including Cal Tech, Dartmouth College, Yale University, Brown University, and the University of Texas-Austin. This is a 180-degree change from the status quo of colleges being “test optional” over the last few admission cycles. With the list of colleges requiring an ACT or SAT growing, we need to be thoughtful about how each student plans for their college application process.

Over the past several years, while the SAT and ACT have been optional, test score averages at most test-optional colleges have gone through the roof. At Rutgers, for example, the middle 50% of SAT scores for the class starting last fall (SAT/ACT optional) is 1270-1480, with 50% of those students submitting SAT scores. Back in 2019, when scores were required, their middle 50% was 1190-1410, with 90% of students submitting SAT scores. During that same time period, the average SAT scores overall held steady. 

Applicants now look at these averages to decide whether to send their scores to test-optional colleges. A student with a strong SAT score of 1200 (81st percentile nationally) might look at the average SATs at Rutgers and decide not to send their scores. But does that serve the applicant in the best possible way?? Not necessarily; testing is just one piece of the whole picture.

Arguments For and Against Standardized Testing

Many argue that the SAT or ACT is the only solid way to compare students from different schools and parts of the country. Since long before COVID-19, however, opponents of standardized testing cite diversity and access in their argument of why the SAT and ACT should not be used as a measuring stick for college admissions—that certain demographic groups historically score higher than others. Somewhat surprisingly, that is the exact reason why Dartmouth and others have decided to reinstate testing.

Dartmouth’s key findings:

1) SAT (and ACT) scores are highly predictive of academic achievement at Dartmouth.

2) SAT is a strong predictor of academic success at Dartmouth for all subgroups.

3) A test-optional policy is likely a barrier to Dartmouth identifying less-advantaged students who would succeed at Dartmouth.

4) Test-optional policies do not necessarily increase the proportion of less-advantaged students in the applicant pool.

See Dartmouth’s announcement here: (

Implications for Students

If you’ve been a rockstar at your mediocre high school and you’ve maxed out the most rigorous curriculum you can, colleges want to see that. It also wouldn’t hurt for them to see your test scores so they can evaluate all of that information together as part of your whole application file. You can’t just assume your score isn’t worth submitting because it falls below the colleges’ average.

Now, what if you go to a fantastic high school and you are a mediocre student there, seemingly surrounded by mathlete rock stars? Does that mean you’re toast in this process? Not at all. In fact, those are the students who might be most helped by colleges reinstating test score requirements. If you’ve been an up-and-down student throughout high school, the SAT/ACT might be the spot where you can show off your abilities in a clear, quantifiable way. Remember, the scores are just one piece of all of this– they won’t make or break you– and it’s one place where we need to slow down, be thoughtful, and make sure you have a plan that works best for you.

Each week, we run free, proctored practice SAT and ACTs to help families figure out a good standardized testing plan. Feel free to sign up here:

Check back next week, we’ll break down the high school profile document and how you can get a quick admissions-eye read of how your student might be evaluated in the admissions process.