As a former senior admission officer from Yale I feel compelled to address the recent comments flooding social media regarding SAT optional / flexible policies many U.S. universities have adopted.
Covid-19 has triggered an emergency response to conversations admissions officers have been having for years. This emergency response I find unfortunate. A slew of SAT exams have been cancelled, and rightfully so; the College Board had no other choice. Subsequently, they have added exam dates in the fall of 2020, but still, those test dates are in extremely high-demand. And many kids around the world will never get the chance to take the SAT this year. That is the reality. The College Board considered, for a minute, offering the exam on line which from the outset was a horrible idea. That idea has thankfully been tossed overboard.
Universities therefore had no other choice but to move to a test optional / flexible position. This conversation is not new to us. On one hand, most highly selective universities have never been fond of standardized testing. I am in this camp. We are convinced that there is a formal correlation between high test scores and high family income. Families who can afford high priced SAT prep companies like New Channel, and families that can afford for their children to take the exam multiple times will obviously be in a position to submit higher scores. I get it.
On the other hand, when I left Yale I went on to serve as Director of Admissions at Vassar College. It is a wonderful small liberal arts college in New York that rejects far more students than they admit. Whether or not to move away from a SAT-required policy to a SAT-optional policy was one of the first decisions I had to make as Director. It was painstaking decision. But in the end, I decided to remain SAT-required. And here is why…
I acknowledged the correlation between wealthy families and high test scores. But more importantly, I also knew that courses taken and grades earned in those courses were more important than test scores. And in that vein I also knew that high schools around the globe have a myriad of ways to present transcripts-- the all-important document that records courses taken and grades earned. Some high schools use the popular 4.0 scale; others use a 5.0 scale. Some used an 11-point scale. From time to time I read transcripts that used a blend of scales to determine As, Bs, Cs, and so on.
So in the end standardized tests, with all their shortcomings, have value. They level the playing field for applicants that applied to my universities from around the world. It is the one metric that allowed me to measure and to gauge all students the same way. With the SAT / ACT I knew all students were taking the same test, at the same time, answering the same questions. And when the majority of students applying all have A averages, with “A” defined in a variety of ways, this standard metric of evaluation becomes vital.
My point to all this: SAT Optional does not mean selective admission offices will ignore completely SAT scores. Students who score well on these tests will certainly submit the scores. And admissions offices will consider them. Make no mistake. Until you get to the University of California. The 10 University of California universities, anchored by Berkeley and ULCA, are driving in a completely different lane. And for China, it is critical that we understand, that we study, and that we embrace this path. “Optional” is not the case. In a few years they plan to remove the SAT / ACT altogether from their admissions process. And if possible, they plan to “design their own standardized test for admission.” Whether or not they can pull this off is yet to be seen, and is not the issue here.
What is the issue: for our kids applying to UC schools, the pressure on the transcript, the activities, the teacher recommendations and especially the essays will increase exponentially. And in my humble opinion, this is not where most Chinese education agencies do their best work. I therefore suggest that first-- students and families must continue to prepare rigorously for SAT / ACT / AP exams. Second, as difficult as it seems, you have to find a way to strengthen your activity profile, especially if Berkeley and UCLA are your dream choices. Third and equally important get professional help with your essays. Today, they count more than ever.
他们并不是说完全取消SAT/ACT，很多顶尖高等院校在2020-2021申请季中决定采用的是“Test-Optional”政策，意思是学生可以自己决定是否要提交SAT / ACT考试成绩。换句话说，你可以选择任何想要向院校证明自己的方式。