SAT Optional, and Still Really Important

One big trend in college admissions lately is to no longer require that applicants submit their SAT scores. Admissions officers explain such changes by saying reassuring things like how they’re now committed to making the admissions process better.

Without those pesky, hated SATs colleges can focus on what really matters. As one college administrator explained:

This makes official something we’ve always done in practice — and that is, focus on a holistic review of the student — his or her high school record, including strengths of program selected and grades in those courses. Those factors have always been more important than test scores.

Yea, sure they have.

It turns out that many of the same schools ending the SAT requirement are still very interested in SATs. According to an article by Janet Lorin at Bloomberg News:

Colleges from Bowdoin in Maine to Pitzer in California dropped the SAT entrance exam as a requirement, saying it favors the affluent, penalizes minorities and doesn’t predict academic success. What they don’t advertise is they find future students by buying names of kids who do well on the test.

Pitzer buys as many as 100,000 names a year based on test scores from the College Board, owner of the SAT, to search for applicants, even after the school became “test-optional” in the 2003-2004 year. Wake Forest University, which stopped requiring the SAT or rival ACT test for students entering in 2009, also buys names, as does Bowdoin, which made scores optional in 1969.

That’s because colleges don’t make SATs optional because they dislike SATs or don’t think they reveal important information. The SAT is pretty much an intelligence test and colleges naturally have an interest in knowing how smart their applicants are (even if students with 100-point SAT differences may be of more or less equal intelligence).

No, colleges make SATs optional so that student with low SATs won’t submit those scores and colleges can return higher SATs averages to college rating guides like U.S. News.

That whole SAT optional thing works out pretty well, doesn’t it?

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer