UC waiving SAT and ACT requirements for 2021 applicants

Response to COVID-19 assures equitable access to higher education and eases stress on high schoolers

The University of Cincinnati announced today that it will adopt a test-optional admissions policy for a two-year period as a result of significant disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The move means that students entering UC in fall 2021 will not be required to submit standardized test scores from the ACT or SAT to gain admission to the vast majority of programs. Though a few select programs will still require a standardized test, most applicants will be able to choose whether or not to submit scores to be considered as part of UC’s new holistic admissions review model. 

Jack Miner

Jack Miner, UC’s vice provost for enrollment management

“This is really a student-friendly decision,” says Jack Miner, UC’s vice provost for enrollment management. “So many of the students we are talking to in their junior year are stressing out because they are not able to take the ACT or SAT in the time they normally would have due to COVID-19.”

Miner points to current research that indicates universities that have implemented test-optional policies in recent years are not seeing an academic slide, yet those same universities are gaining a more diverse student body. 

“Schools that have gone in this direction have started seeing an increase in diversity both in applications and enrollment,” says Miner. “They are enrolling more underrepresented minority students as well as more economically diverse students.”

Michael Reilly, executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, says UC is joining a growing movement in higher education that began long before the coronavirus pandemic.

The racial and ethnic disparities of standardized testing continues to be a strong concern. The purpose of test-optional is to overcome the disparities that result from poor distribution of resources at the K-12 level to school districts in low-income communities.

Michael Reilly, executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers

“Test optional has been growing steadily over the last 10 years,” says Reilly, pointing out that it began to pick up steam after a watershed moment in 2018 when the University of Chicago made the move. 

“The racial and ethnic disparities of standardized testing continues to be a strong concern,” says Reilly. “The purpose of test-optional is to overcome the disparities that result from poor distribution of resources at the K-12 level to school districts in low-income communities.”

Since the pandemic, dozens more colleges have relaxed their admissions policies, including Cornell and Harvard. The nonprofit National Center for Fair and Open Testing claims in its latest count on April 29 that 1,160 accredited four-year colleges have waived standardized testing for fall 2021.

A two-year pilot at UC

Tammy Byland

Tammy Byland, UC's assistant vice provost of admissions

UC will evaluate the test-optional policy, and based on that assessment determine next steps, says Tammy Byland, assistant vice provost of admissions.

“Right now we are implementing this change for a two-year period in response to the COVID impact, but we want to collect data along the way that helps us understand the influence on not only enrollment, but also student success,” says Byland. “We have always taken a holistic approach to evaluating students for admission. Standardized test scores have historically only made up a small part of our decision process. 

“In the absence of a test score, we will continue to look at all factors on applications holistically including the completion of a core curriculum, grades earned, a student’s decision to take rigorous coursework such as AP, honors, application essays, extracurricular activities, and other achievements.” 

These changes are evidence of the university's commitment to student success and academic excellence, both of which are at the bedrock of UC's Next Lives Here strategic direction.

Reaction from high school juniors

UC’s announcement comes as welcome news to area high school students such as Mark Behrendt, a junior at Winton Woods High School.

“In my opinion, the best and most fair way to gauge a student’s academic ability is to go off their grades, classes, character and work ethic — where they have been able to show their true potential,” says Behrendt. 

He points out that Winton Woods is extremely culturally diverse and for many of his classmates English is their second language.

“All of the people I have met are extremely talented and brilliant and will surely be able to achieve great things in their lives,” says Behrendt. “One thing that might be holding them back, however, is the language barrier. High-speed, high-stakes tests such as the ACT and SAT require one hundred percent focus on the questions at all times and will become very challenging to do well if precious time is being spent struggling to understand the words on the page.”

Requiring standardized scores in a time like this would place an undue burden on the students in the application process and hinder many incredible students from further success.

Winton Woods High School Junior Emma Smith

Winton Woods classmate Emma Smith agrees.

“I think this decision by the University of Cincinnati will benefit students and families in such a tremendous way,” she says. “Requiring standardized scores in a time like this would place an undue burden on the students in the application process and hinder many incredible students from further success.”

Counselors weigh in

Tanya Ficklin, lead counselor for Cincinnati Public Schools:

“UC moving to test-optional will be very beneficial to the students of CPS,” says Ficklin. “It gives the students an opportunity to be looked at through a true holistic lens. The hard work our students put in within the classroom as well as in their lives will now have an opportunity to shine and be appreciated.”

Chris McCoy, department chair for college advising at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati:

“Not only does this move further support UC’s commitment to access and equity in college admission, but it also provides some peace of mind to students that are experiencing unprecedented change,” says McCoy. “With testing availability being very uncertain at this point, students benefit from knowing their applications will continue to be reviewed in a context that highlights their ability to be successful at UC.”

Kristen Dickerson, past-president of the Ohio Association for College Admission Counseling as well as a school counselor at St. Charles Preparatory School in Columbus, Ohio:

“Given our current situation, I think it makes good sense for UC to go test-optional for the next couple of enrollment cycles,” says Dickerson. “Many, if not most, students have not had the opportunity to test due to canceled testing. Additionally, we do not know where this pandemic will go, and student access to school counselors, fair testing and comprehensive college counseling could be impacted.”

John Beischel, counselor at Winton Woods City Schools:

“The University of Cincinnati's decision to go test-optional is a positive step especially in this unprecedented time,” says Beischel. “It is a humane and thoughtful response in a time of high stress and great uncertainty. Students who excel in the classroom in their local high school but don't test well on a standardized test should not have that test determine their future.

“Test-optional institutions actually are trying to ‘level the playing field’ if they do it correctly. To look at the whole person requires that you look deeper into that person and his/her academics, life and significant factors that cannot be discovered on a standardized test. Characteristics such as grit, drive, work ethic and background are factors that one must look at if you choose to go test-optional. Kudos to the University of Cincinnati for taking the initiative in these challenging times.”

Ashley Overman, college liaison at Dayton Early College Academy:

“I believe that as we continue to discuss the issues of access and equity in higher education, going test-optional will allow students and families to consider universities to which they have previously been excluded,” says Overman. “Many of the universities will now be able to evaluate students in a more holistic manner rather than just a test score. 

“It is my belief that UC will benefit as well,” she says. “I believe that many wonderful and deserving students miss out on their best fit colleges and universities because of a single test score. I hope that more universities will consider the intangible skills that are required for a student to be successful in college, seek them out in their applicants and continue to explore data to support these efforts.”

Additional resources

Featured image at top: The UC sign near Martin Luther King Drive and Clifton Avenue. photo/Lisa Ventre/UC Creative + Brand

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