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The SAT: A Reason to Say “Yes”

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Colleges are almost always looking for a reason to say “yes.” It may not feel that way to nervous students and families, but admissions officers open every application hoping to see evidence that a student is prepared for higher education, and all the ways that they’re ready to hit the ground running as a newly admitted college student.

And for most students, the SAT is a reason to say “yes.”  After experimenting with test-optional policies during the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools — including Dartmouth, MIT, Caltech, and Purdue — are reinstating testing requirements for admissions. And those that remain test-optional continue to use scores for critical decisions about admission, student support, and class placement.

“Standardized tests are a means for all students, regardless of their background and life experience, to provide information that is predictive of success in college and beyond,” explained Hopi Hoekstra, Harvard’s dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, in the school’s recent decision to once again require test scores for admission. “More information, especially such strongly predictive information, is valuable for identifying talent from across the socioeconomic range.”

A useful tool

A wealth of recent research found that amid all the components of a college application — grades, essays, extracurricular activities — test scores are among the most useful in identifying students who are ready to succeed. That’s because admissions officers know that not all students have the same support and resources, so they take care to read test scores in context of a student’s school and life experience.

“Our goals are to attract the best and brightest students, and to make sure every student is successful once they are here,” explained Jay Hartzell, president of the University of Texas at Austin. “Our experience during the test-optional period reinforced that standardized testing is a valuable tool for deciding who is admitted, and making sure those students are placed in majors that are the best fit.”

The SAT and PSAT are also crucial steps for helping students learn more about college. Taking an exam, especially early in high school, can open the door to schools and career options that students may never have considered. “After I took the PSAT in my junior year, universities that had received my score flooded me with letters urging me to apply,” wrote author and Harvard graduate Emi Nietfeld, a first-generation student who doubted her own college potential. “I set my sights higher.”

Many educators are advising students who are on the fence about taking the SAT to take it and see how they do. And the SAT is easier to take than ever — now fully digital and nearly an hour shorter. Taking the SAT is a way for all students to aim higher, consider new options, and look hopefully to their path beyond high school.

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