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Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The College Prep Landscape is Changing, Again!

by Katherine O'Brien, MA CCPS, Founder Celtic College Consultants

Years in the making, today's announcement by the College Board that they are discontinuing the SAT Subject Tests effective immediately, dropping the SAT optional essay after June, and preparing a digital testing modality for the SAT are more signs that the college prep and college admissions worlds are in a phase of metamorphosis. Coming just a couple years before the HS graduation classes start to shrink, today's changes continue to reveal the need for an overhaul of the system.

The College Board will lean on its AP courses and exams more heavily for revenues, alongside the SAT exam. SAT revenues have been shrinking with fewer than half as many test takers in 2020 than previous years, largely due to test site closures due to public health measures effected in response to the pandemic. 

Top students will need to explore and develop additional ways to differentiate themselves from their peers and the long held advantage of the wealthy is not likely to diminish. Summer camps, courses, and programs will likely grow, since they provide many diverse avenues for students to develop and demonstrate various competencies and academic interests, as well as to make connections with well placed recommenders.

Admissions offices will need to continue to revise their evaluative methodologies and processes as more and more applicants turn to these varied methods to demonstrate their worthiness of a place in the next freshman class. The days of calculating an academic score based on GPA, types of courses taken, and a test score or two are clearly numbered. With many colleges and universities adopting test optional or test blind policies this year, an increase in the number making that change permanently has already started to be seen.'s data tells that tale quite clearly.

Students, already experienced in adapting to change because of the pandemic, will again have new options to consider while the old begin to fade. For many, these opportunities will enable them to articulate their gifts far more effectively than the very game-able SAT test ever could facilitate. Their creativity, ability to problem solve, lead others, conduct research, give presentations, etc. will be much more easily showcased - and have those demonstrations be given the increased attention they always deserved. While this process is not as cut and dry as a mathematical formula, it is more honest. After all, people are much more complex than a test score could ever show them to be.

Since many colleges have used test scores to validate homeschooled students' courses, the continued shift away from the SAT and ACT raises some questions about how admissions policies for these students will change. The five year old Classic Learning Test (CLT) exam can take up some of the slack but, with the tide going out on all test scores, one wonders how well the CLT will survive, despite its amazing growth in 2020. This part of the shift in admissions policies and practices is yet to be determined and announced.