SAT, ACT tests optional: Changes to college admissions

BOSTON — From virtual tours to changes in application requirements, college admissions in the age of COVID-19 are looking very different.

As SAT and ACT tests have been canceled each month since the spring, many top colleges and universities have announced they are going “test optional,” meaning prospective students will not be required to take the exams.

Anne Yount, founder of Boston Tutoring Center in West Roxbury, tells Boston 25 News “test optional” applies most to students who have experienced hardship due to the pandemic.

“What we’re hearing from our college admissions partners is students who have had a loss due to the pandemic – whether it be a loss of family income or a loss of a breadwinner and have had to downscale their studies because they’re having to take care of younger children in the family, or get a job to help bring income into the family,” Yount said, “those students, the college is going to understand if they haven’t had time to study and take the SAT.”

A guidance counselor can write a letter on the student’s behalf to demonstrate that hardship, Yount said.

But students who have the ability to study and take the test should take it, Yount said, especially if other parts of their application – grades or extracurricular activities – need improvement.

“If you have a student who has spent the summer really at home, not doing any sort of work or volunteering, or some kind of project, then it really would behoove those students to spend some time preparing for the SAT and taking the SAT,” Yount said. “Because one of the number-one questions colleges are going to ask applicants this fall is, ‘How did you spend your time during [the pandemic]?’”

For 18 years, Yount has helped countless students navigate the high school and college admissions process, including the Holloman family of Dorchester.

Nia Holloman, the youngest child, is a 17-year-old rising senior at Woodward School for Girls in Quincy. Nia had planned to take the SAT in March before the test was cancelled. She is now preparing for the test in September, hoping it isn't canceled, too.

“We’re really focusing on SAT classes, for sure. Maintaining that level of always learning something new, reading a lot of books,” Nia said of not treating her summer as just a break. “After that, we’re going to work on my college resume and applications.”

Nia, former junior class president, has a near-perfect grade point average of 3.97. She plays the violin, volunteers in her community and plays soccer, basketball and softball. Last year, she took two Advanced Placement courses, and this year, she plans to take five.

“I’m a student-athlete, but obviously student comes first,” Nia said.

Nia’s parents, Pamela and Howard Holloman, are helping their daughter prepare for an uncertain school year ahead and a college admissions process far different from what their older children experienced.

“We’re super excited and nervous,” Pamela Holloman said. “We’ve always made education a priority in our family with all of our children.”

“We really wanted to focus on her being a well-balanced student,” Howard Holloman added. “So that’s why we really impressed upon her to do school activities such as athletics. She also volunteered at a church. She plays the violin.”

Scoring high on the SAT isn’t just helpful to gaining admission to college, Yount said. It could also earn you a merit scholarship.

Yount urges rising seniors to start showing interest and connecting with admissions representatives right away. She also encourages students to begin looking at applications, putting together their resumes, asking teachers for recommendations and working on their essays.

But she also warns prospective college students not to put too much stress on themselves.

“What parents and students have to keep in mind is that college is one piece of your career journey,” Yount said. “When you’re out in the work world for five, ten years, very few people ask you where you went to school. They ask you what you’ve done and what your achievements and accomplishments are.”

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