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As I build lists for my 2023 grads, I’ve been for waiting for the verdict on test score requirements, particularly from southern colleges that hinted that they might reverse the test-optional policies spurred by the pandemic. That’s why I wasn’t surprised that the University of Tennessee stated that SAT/ACT scores will be required for its class of 2027.

UTennessee has not posted its stats for the class of 2026, but we can assume that over 50% of applicants/admits did not submit scores and those who did submit scored at least between 1140-1300 on the SAT and 25-31 on the ACT (numbers from the class of 2025). When all colleges (except for the Florida and Georgia publics) became test-optional for the class of 2024, test scores skewed higher, with only the strongest test-takers submitting scores. My current juniors will face a more clear-cut situation--either they meet those required scores or they don’t–and shape their lists accordingly.

The situation, however, is anything but clear-cut.

The Common Application stats show that students are applying to more colleges–over a 25% rise–because of test-optional policies. Private, mostly-selective institutions saw the biggest rise. A 2022 grad applied to 12 colleges with me and another 12 on his own–to no advantage. Applying to a reasonable number of schools–roughly 8-12 academic/social fits–makes the process manageable for students and families. Overwhelmed college admissions offices and enrollment managers made later and less predictable decisions.

But a reversal of test-optional policies hurts students who are not strong test takers and underserved students who may not have the means or time to prepare to test well or to test multiple times. That’s why over 1000 colleges, including some of the most selective liberal arts colleges in the US, became test-optional long before the pandemic. There are reams of studies on whether test results are an accurate predictor of college success, and the belief of the education community at large is that they are not.

I’ve always said “more colleges, more stress.” Let me know what you think about the value of standardized testing.


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