The SAT: Important or Irrelevant?


Esha Singhai, Staff Writer

Making its first appearance in 1926, the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or SAT, has evolved to become a subject of controversy among college admissions officers and students alike. Though the SAT has only progressed in respect to its organizational structure and type of content tested, the social implications of this exam have changed.

The SAT, a noble attempt to standardize college admissions procedures in an effort to increase access to higher education, has actually become a showcase of privilege and wealth. Numerous affluent parents have gone so far as to pay adults to take the SAT or ACT for their child in order to boost their scores enough to make them competitive for elite colleges. And while these are rare occurrences, upper middle class students generally also have access to private tutors and endless resources. The unfortunate truth is that the SAT consistently favors privileged communities over black and latino communities.

Despite this gapering divide in our society, the recent decision of multiple schools (including elite institutions) to go test-optional for the foreseeable future might offer a new hope for those disadvantaged by the SAT. College admissions officers may look past an absence of test scores and put greater emphasis on extracurricular activities, essays, and/or other academic achievements in its place.

Students who applied during the 2020-2021 school year seem to concur. A recent statistic by Common App shows that only 44% of students who applied to college through February 15 submitted SAT or ACT scores, compared to 77% the year before. This 33% decline can be attributed to the idealistic mentality that college admissions officers will not take test scores into account, especially during a pandemic.

It is true that college admissions are shifting away from using the SAT as a key factor in determining admissions, but students should still keep this optimistic outlook in check. Colleges have previously promised us that factors such as legacy status, financial aid requirements or race would not affect our chances of getting in, but they often oversimplify the truth in an effort to make the admissions process look more fair.

Regardless of this oversimplification, we can still try to give these colleges the benefit of the doubt. In 2021, University of Pennsylvania (UPenn), an ivy league institution, reported that 75% of their Early Decision applicants who were admitted also submitted test scores. This means that a fourth of their Early Decision applicants earned admission without submitting their test scores. However, this percentage is one of the highest this year. Georgetown University reported that only 7.34% of its Early Action applicants who did not submit test scores earned admission.

UPenn offers us hope that the college admissions process is changing to be more inclusive. The days of test-scores crushing self-worth and dreams of higher education seem to be left in the past.
Unfortunately, with every improvement comes a reality check. It is true that poor test-takers have a better chance at their dream schools because of test-optional policies. However, many other elite schools have refused to release the percentage of students who gained admission without submitting their test scores. The reason for this is likely because an extremely small percentage of students were actually able to do so, despite admissions officers’ claims that going test-optional would “not hurt your chances.”

Nevertheless, Robert Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing, states that a large majority of colleges will still remain ACT/SAT-optional for the near future. But this doesn’t mean that there will be a complete flip in the admissions process. A high SAT score will always make an application more appealing to an admissions officer, as universities often use the SAT as an objective measurement for intelligence and ability to succeed in college.

The simple truth is that the SAT will always remain important and offer a boost to your application, but it will never guarantee admission. The recent decision of many colleges to go test-optional will make higher education more accessible, though students must put in their work elsewhere if they do decide to go test optional.