College Testing: How Filling in Bubbles Impacts Your Future


I don’t think there’s a student out there enjoying the standardized testing experience.  Likewise, I’ve never met either a high school or college professional that thinks the tests are particularly wonderful or feel very confident that they are strong indicators of student success.  If all that is true, why in tarnation are we stuck with the darn things?!

That is a very good question and unfortunately I don’t have a great answer for you.  The best I can do is admit that they’ve been around for a very long time the trend of our reliance on testing is (finally!) changing.

Way back in the day there were less uniform standards for high schools to follow so colleges were dealing with very inconsistent high school credentials from their applicants.  Just because a student had graduated, and perhaps earned good grades for that matter, did not guarantee that they were college ready.  This became very troublesome for colleges to ensure that the most qualified applicants were offered admission.

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Enter standardized tests.  With a SAT or ACT a college can be confident that an earned score means the same regardless of the student…hypothetically.

Of course we’re all now aware of the problems with this theory.  First of all, there is study after study about the cultural and socio-economic biases of these tests.  Just think about it: a family that can afford a private tutor is going to (on average) have a student earn higher scores than one that cannot.  Also, a student attending a below-average public high school won’t be as well prepared for the test as an elite private school student.  In the end, the tests are just as flawed as the high school grade reporting can be. 

I’m glad to report that these trends are finally changing.  Colleges want to ensure that all qualified students can quickly and fairly apply to their school so many are now denoted with that most magical name: TEST OPTIONAL.  A growing number of schools each year are saying to heck with those silly numbers and using other means of evaluating applicants.  For some this just means a stronger reliance on high school records, while others may require you submit extra letters of recommendation, a graded high school paper, or another similar credential.

High school students rejoice!  Now those tests are no longer a necessity for you to attend a wonderful school!  We’ve not progressed far enough that I’d ditch them entirely however.  In my opinion every student should take a SAT and an ACT at least once, just to see how they fair.  If, after giving it your best shot, you feel that the tests are truly not reflective of your potential, it’s time to consider your test-optional options.  A complete list, updated regularly, can be found at

But applicant beware!  Not all test optional schools are created equal.  While some are truly happy to throw the scores on a bonfire many are test optional with caveats.  Like without the scores you’re ineligible for scholarships.  Or certain programs.  Be sure to do your homework here so you can truly make the best choice.

Overall, I think this is a trend we can expect will continue to grow (I can hear College Board shaking in their boots from here!)  In fact, I saw some very questionable research reports from College Board recently questioning the validity of high school GPA’s to salvage their dying industry however I predict this will all be for naught.  Sorry test-makers but your days are numbered! 

I wish that I could advise current high schoolers to ignore the tests all together but we’re just not there yet.  The good news is we’re closing in on the day that I can, and in the meantime, there are plenty of options for those who refuse to leave their futures in the hands of their #2 pencil.

Admissions Abridged distills news and trends from the college admissions world to provide college-bound students and their families with helpful tools to approach the application process.

Kate Balboni has earned a Master’s in School Counseling and is a certified New Jersey School Counselor.  She has served as an admissions counselor for Drew University and as a regional admissions coordinator at the University of South Carolina.  During her time in Undergraduate Admissions she has reviewed thousands of applications and student essays, conducted hundreds of student interviews, and has visited over 50 college campuses throughout the nation.  Kate is the owner of Balboni College Advising, a concierge college consulting service, providing one-on-one guidance and counseling throughout the college application process.  For more information please visit

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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