As COVID-19 Prompts SAT and ACT Cancellations, College Goes Test-Optional for Next Admissions Cycle

The college will implement a number of changes for its 2020-21 admission cycle in response to the coronavirus pandemic, including the adaptation of test-optional policies and halting the consideration of SAT Subject Tests, the Office of Admission announced in a press release on April 6. Students may still submit their SAT and ACT scores for the Office of Admission to consider during their evaluation process. Additionally, the $400 enrollment deposit will be waived for the class of 2024. 

The decision comes as both the College Board, the organization which administers the SAT, and the ACT both announced the cancellation of in-person exams through June. With uncertainty lingering as the coronavirus runs its course, the two test-administering services are beginning to consider a move towards digital exams if testing centers continue to remain closed.

The admission policy changes aim to ease the stress that many applicants are facing. “Given the cancellation of many test dates and uncertainty about the future, we feel strongly that we must put the health and wellness of students above all other considerations,” Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Matt McGann wrote in the press release.

“Everyone’s first priority should be the health, safety and wellness of family and community,” Cate Granger Zolkos, dean of admission, added in the press release. 

“We will continue to practice a whole-person review of every application, as we have for decades,” McGann wrote in an email interview with The Student. “We are fortunate that we will be able to learn from other schools that have practiced test-optional admission, such as Bowdoin, which has been test-optional for half a century, and, more recently, the University of Chicago.”

The college waived the advance deposit for incoming first-years to mitigate the immediate financial burdens that the pandemic has brought, though students will still be expected to pay the $400 at a later time. “The advance tuition deposit is just that — an advance payment on the tuition that a student would normally pay,” McGann said. “Students will still pay the same costs that they normally would, just later in the year. It is delayed, rather than lost, funds for the college.”

“As always,” he added, “we meet every student’s full financial need without loans.”

The new test-optional policy and other changes come at a time when the Office of Admission is revamping its usual, in-person methods of recruiting students. On March 6, diversity outreach interns in the admissions office, who organize the college’s Diversity Open House and Admitted Students Weekend events, were notified that the Admitted Student Open House on April 4 through 7 would be cancelled due to concerns over coronavirus. The admission office is currently using virtual tours, online academic panels and chat rooms, among other online platforms, to familiarize admitted students with the campus and introduce them to tour guides and other current students who may answer their questions.

Several other colleges in the NESCAC have altered their admission policies as well. Both Williams College and Hamilton College have decided to suspend their standardized testing requirement for the 2020-21 admission cycle, while Middlebury College and Tufts University will use the next three admission cycles to trial a test-optional admission policy. The remaining NESCAC colleges already used a test-optional policy prior to the 2020-21 admission cycle. 

The college has not yet determined whether it would move towards a permanent test optional policy. “I expect the Faculty Committee on Admission and Financial Aid to continue to discuss our admission requirements, including what we learn from this test-optional year,” McGann said.

The ACT canceled its tests for the month of April on March 13. The College Board still held its SAT and SAT Subject Tests on March 14, though it canceled its subsequent test date on June 6. The College Board noted that it plans on administering new, monthly tests beginning in August until December, though it is subject to change based on the trajectory of the pandemic, according to its website. 

“We send our best wishes for the health and well-being of you, your family and your community,” the Office of Admission wrote to the newly admitted class on its website. “We are thinking of you in these challenging days and we look forward to welcoming you to campus in September.”