The College Board announced it would no longer offer the optional essay on the SAT or its supplemental subject tests on Jan. 19. UNC expects minimal changes to its admissions process without test scores, leaving students wondering if the tests are necessary at all.
Michael Davis, associate director for admissions within the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, said the UNC System’s decision in July to make test scores optional for applicants did not greatly impact the admission team’s decision-making process, and he doubts the SAT’s new changes will either.
After the CollegeBoard announced an end to SAT subject tests and option essay on Jan. 19, UNC expects to see minimal changes in its admission process.
“Test scores have always been one factor among many in our process,” Davis said. “We view our job as adding to our community, not just reviewing numbers.”
Davis said roughly two-thirds of students who applied to UNC via early action this application cycle still submitted test scores despite them being optional.
“So we admitted students who submitted test scores, we admitted students who did not submit test scores and vice versa,” Davis said. “We didn’t try to penalize students whether they did submit the test scores or not.”
Peter Mullen, a senior at Knightdale High School who was admitted to UNC's class of 2025, did not submit his test scores and said the application being test-optional was “a weight lifted” off of his chest.
“I was having a pretty crazy summer at the time," Mullen said. "I was working a job, I lost a couple family members and the last thing I was worried about was having to sit in a room and take a test for four hours."
Mullen didn't know the College Board offered subject tests, which he said was most likely because his high school is one of Raleigh’s lower-income schools.
“I feel like that’s something they should have told us, and that goes with having access to it," Mullen said. "And there are a lot of different social groups that might not have access to even the SAT or the ACT ... a lot of those kids are kind of screwed."
Davis said UNC always allowed students to submit SAT subject tests and SAT essay scores but never required them.
“I think that the College Board’s decision to phase out the writing score and the SAT subject tests is really just a recognition that there were very few colleges and universities that required them in the first place,” Davis said. “I see this in some ways as a good thing because I think it might create less stress for students.”
Natalie Ray, a senior at Orange High School in Hillsborough who was recently admitted to UNC, said she took both the SAT and the ACT but only submitted her ACT scores. Ray wrote the optional essay for the SAT once, but deemed it unimportant and declined to take it again at other dates.
“The essay for the SAT I did not like whatsoever," Ray said. "What they’re asking you to do is very in line with their AP class standards, and I did not take those AP English classes; I took them at a community college.
"I did not feel like it was a good show of where I am as a writer or a student because that’s not something that I was familiar with.”
UNC’s application included more writing opportunities this year than in previous years, Davis said, as the application included a question about how COVID-19 specifically impacted students.
“I would say that this year we’ve definitely seen more information shared by students through those additional questions,” Davis said. “But I haven’t seen that tied to whether they submitted a test score or not; it’s just been more about each individual student deciding how much additional context they want to share.”
UNC has utilized SAT subject tests in the past to help place students in language courses and math courses, but as not all students submit these scores in the first place, the College Board’s decision to get rid of them will not greatly unbalance the placing process, Davis said.
“There are certainly other avenues that students can take to still get that placement, and we’ll be working with all of the different departments to be updating that for future years,” Davis said.
First-year Rachel Ferris, a pre-business major at UNC, said she feels that standardized tests are not a perfect metric of a student's capability, but she understands how they aid the flow of the admissions process.
“This pandemic has given us a lot of perspective, and I think that that isn’t something we should abandon because it's over,” Ferris said. “People are still going to face the same struggles they did before and during the pandemic, and just because you’re not worried about your grandma getting sick or losing your job doesn’t mean that all of your problems have gone away.”
Ray, Mullen and Ferris all identified accessibility issues within standardized testing as a reason why tests like the SAT and ACT should become less important post-pandemic.
“Not every school has AP or IB, or the same extracurricular opportunities, and some kids are working to put food on the table and can’t be playing varsity sports, so I think there is a kind of disadvantage no matter what category you’re comparing kids in,” Ferris said.
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