Should my student take the SAT or ACT during the pandemic?

Should my student take the SAT or ACT during the pandemic?

As we know, standardized tests didn’t exactly go as planned for the class of 2021.  While some students were able to find a testing location, some even traveling to other states, not all students had the same luck.  There was also a noticeable discrepancy for many students between their test score(s) and their school performance.  For students with less than desirable or no scores to report, the option to leave them off of their college applications was beneficial.

Now as not all students have taken the tests they’d planned to this year, schools have already started to announce their testing policies for 2021 applications from transfer students and the class of 2022.  The majority of schools are sticking to being test optional, while others are going to fully test blind.  So, going back to the question being asked by parents everywhere, the short answer is yes.  The longer answer is to plan for your student to take them once.  From there, if they can potentially increase their score with a retake, give it another go.  If the score would need to jump by leaps and bounds to reach a score worth submitting, let them direct their focus elsewhere.

While the college application process is known to be stressful, it doesn’t have to be.  Students should use the gift of test optional policies to refocus.  Have them work on making a balanced college list, researching and applying to scholarships, and building an application that demonstrates the student’s strengths.  So maybe the better questions are which schools have already announced that they’re test-optional, and will these changes become permanent.  The below list of more well-known schools will likely grow daily, and while some such as Indiana University and RIT have already announced that these changes will be permanent, that list will likely grow as well.

American University, Amherst College, Bard College, Baylor University, Berklee College of Music, Boston College, Brandeis University, Bucknell University, Butler University, CIT, Case Western Reserve University, Columbia (College and University), Cornell University, DePaul University, Elon University, Emerson College, Fordham University, George Washington University, Gettysburg College, Haverford College, Harvey Mudd College, Indiana University, Loyola University (Chicago and Marymount), Macalester College, Northwestern University  Oberlin College, Ohio University, Rice University, Santa Clara University, Sarah Lawrence University, Scripps College, Skidmore College, Smith College, Swarthmore College, Temple University, Tufts University, Tulane University, University of Arizona, University of California System, University of Chicago, University of Connecticut, University of Massachusetts (Amherst), University of Oregon, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia, Villanova University, and Wake Forest University.

If you don’t see a school your student is interested in listed, message me to see if they are test optional or even test blind at


Virtual College Exploration

College on a Hill, College admissions

The best way to get a feel for a college is to visit, get a tour, and spend time on campus.  Unfortunately, that’s not always possible, especially in the days of Covid.  Here are some ways to learn about a college from home.

  1. Virtual Tours – Most people are familiar with college Q&As and virtual tours put on by the school. Some websites that have good virtual tours are You Visit and Campus Tours
  2. YouTube – A good way to learn about colleges from a student’s point of view is through YouTube Videos. This is going to vary greatly on how informative and helpful it is depending on the video. If you start watching and aren’t thrilled, look for a different video.  You are likely to see lived-in dorm rooms, dining hall food, and other aspects of campus life as students take you around.  There’s a mix of students trying to make professional videos to students trying to be authentic and showing the behind the scenes tour of the college.
  3. Student Paper – The school you are interested in most likely has a student newspaper and you are likely to be able to find it online these days. Read a few issues to get an idea of what is important to the students on campus.
  4. Comparison – Knowing the data and how the school compares to others in areas that matter to you might be helpful. For those questions, I like Niche and College Data.  Beware of lists that say “best” of anything – you need to know what criteria they used when they created the list.  If their criteria differs from what you want to know, it isn’t a helpful list for your purposes.
  5. Get in touch – Start by getting in touch with an admissions counselor. If there are college fairs (virtual or in-person) there is often a good point of contact there or look on the school’s website and find out which admissions counselor works with your area.  Ask them a few questions you have about the school and ask if you can get in touch with current students or alumni to find out more information.

Likely, Target, Reach, Oh my!

College Campus Strathmore, college admissions

You may have heard different terms thrown around when talking about choosing where to apply.  There are several terms that mean essentially the same thing.  I’ll go through the three I use but the others are fine too.  Remember, that these terms are based on your grades and test scores.  There are other aspects that can make you more or less of a candidate for each school so this is just a baseline we use to make sure there is variety in your applications.

A likely school describes exactly what it is – a school you are likely to get into.  Another term you’ll hear is a safety school, I’m less of a fan of that term because it has a connotation of second (or less than) choice.   The school that is the absolute best match for you in every way could be a likely school, it doesn’t have to be more difficult to get into for it to be the best choice for you.

A target school is a school that your grades and test scores fall around the 50th percentile.  You have a good shot of getting in though it still could go either way.  You can find information on test scores and GPA on a college’s website, on your Naviance account, or on several websites including

Reach schools are any school that is a little more selective and your grades fall under that 50th percentile.  Also, any ivy league or very selective school is considered a reach school even if you have an amazing weighted and unweighted GPA, fantastic SAT scores, and a list of leadership activities to go with it.  Ivy League schools are not a guarantee for anyone.   Definitely apply if you are interested and you love it, but only if it is a great fit.  These schools are looking for students who will help enhance the culture of their school, and from one year to the next will have different qualities that they are seeking.

The number one goal is to find a few schools that are a great fit each student as an individual, then to make sure there is some diversity of likelihood in the group of schools that the student applies to.