Incoming first-year Michael Sugimoto poses with his #PepperdineBound sign after committing to Pepperdine. He was unable to take the SAT or ACT but was still able to apply to Pepperdine. Photo Courtesy of Michael Sugimoto
High school students spend months studying, preparing and practicing for the SAT and ACT standardized tests, sometimes several times. This year, their hard work didn’t pay off due to COVID-19 related testing cancellations.
As a result, several universities across the nation, including Pepperdine, transitioned to test-optional or test-blind admissions processes.
“A lot of schools are going to be very flexible when it comes to testing because they know that students aren’t able to access testing sites,” said Linh Snyder, college and career counselor at Malibu High School. “I would say moving forward there’s going to be a lot of changes not only in college admissions but also College Board who administers the SAT.”
Without the requirement of test scores, many schools saw applicant numbers go up. Pepperdine’s applicant numbers for the upcoming academic year went up by about 3.3%, Director of Admissions Ashley Nguyen said.
With applicant numbers going up, so did many application-related anxieties. Michael Sugminto and Lydia Smith, early-decision applicants and incoming first-years, said they were nervous about submitting their applications without the test scores because they didn’t know if the application would accurately represent their abilities, and they didn’t have a clear measurement on whether or not they would be accepted.
Changing Testing Policies
Several universities adopted a test-optional or a test-blind system for admissions applications this year. For test-optional applications, students can submit their scores if they would like. For test-blind applications, colleges do not want to see test scores at all. Pepperdine transitioned to a test-optional system, Nguyen said.
“There were many factors leading to that decision, but namely student access to testing was a big issue this year,” Nguyen said. “We will remain test-optional for two more years to include fall 2022 and fall 2023.”
Pepperdine wasn’t alone in its decision to go test-optional. Nationwide, over 1,570 schools decided to take a test-optional approach, according to The National Center for Fair and Open Testing.
With the test-optional approach, colleges limit the criteria to judge an applicant based on.
Pepperdine Admissions used to rate standardized tests as “important” in the decision process, out of a range of “not considered” to “very important,” according to the Office of Institutional Effectiveness Common Data Set for the 2019-2020 academic year.
The Admissions office also rates the rigor of secondary school record, GPA, application essay, extracurricular activities, talent/ability, personal qualities and religious commitment as “very important.”
In the past, advisers used standardized tests for academic advising and placement purposes as well. For the SAT composite scores, 36% of admitted students scored 1400-1600, 48% scored 1200-1399, 15% scored 1000-1199 and 1% scored 800-999, showing the higher the standardized test score, the more likely the acceptance.
“Schools are going to put more of an emphasis on other things besides testing to evaluate for admissions [now],” Snyder said. “So you are looking at the applicant as a whole, and how they can contribute to the school.”
For students who don’t naturally test well, this decision is an advantage on the application, Snyder said.
“I hope that moving forward, they do give students the option of submitting their scores or not,” Snyder said. “For some students testing creates a lot of anxiety for them.”
For the 2021-2022 academic year, 12,927 students applied to Seaver College and Admissions is finalizing admission decisions, Nguyen said. Schools across the country that took a test-optional approach are also seeing increased applications. For example, Harvard’s application rate went up 42% and the University of California, Los Angeles’ application rate went up 28%, Snyder said.
“We are grateful for our increase in application numbers because that means there is still strong interest and draw to Pepperdine,” Nguyen said.
Applying From a Student’s Perspective
The decision to eliminate test scores draws mixed reviews from students in the middle of the application process. Sugimoto and Smith said they had mixed opinions about Pepperdine’s decision to go test-optional.
Sugimoto wasn’t able to take the SAT or ACT due to the cancellations, but Smith was able to take each test once.
“I didn’t have any choice, so I didn’t take it which was kind of a bummer since I was studying for it,” Sugimoto said.
Sugimoto said he worried more about his acceptance to Pepperdine without test scores on his application.
“It [not submitting test scores] definitely affected what I focused on on the application itself,” Sugimoto said. “I wasn’t super confident on my essay so I was really banking on my extracurriculars. I think it would have given me a little more assurance.”
Smith said she went into both tests with the mindset that she would take them again, so she didn’t study. Therefore, she said that she didn’t feel like her test scores accurately represented her academic ability.
“I didn’t really get the chance to actually take it,” Smith said. “I didn’t want my scores hurting me and didn’t want to give conflicting information.”
Pepperdine sent out admission decisions for early applicants Jan. 10 and will send out decisions for regular admission April 1 for the 2021-2022 academic year.
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