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Subject Tests Are Gone? Cool.

Picture of Arun Ponnusamy
By Arun Ponnusamy on January, 21 2021 | 3 minute read

When you’re an admissions officer turned college counselor, you’re always a bit curious about the educational path a person has taken before intersecting with you. So, as the nation watched yesterday’s inauguration, it would surprise no one that while one eye was on C-SPAN soaking up democracy in action, my other was split between Twitter and Wikipedia.

I’ve long known President Biden as a proud graduate of the University of Delaware, a public flagship, and Vice President Harris as an equally proud graduate of Howard University, an HBCU. But I did learn the First Lady, a renowned professor, also graduated from Delaware and the Second Gentleman, an accomplished attorney, from Cal State Northridge—part of the sprawling 23-campus California State University system.

For the umpteenth time in my adulthood, this reminded me that great things happen out of ALL colleges and universities, not just those with admit rates in single digits. Still, it’s undeniable selective schools have a grip on the psyche of many. They’re often seen as the premier pathway to success, and even though many of our students attend them, we’re proud at Collegewise to bust myths surrounding that thinking when we can.

So, on Tuesday, Collegewise cheered when the College Board announced they are eliminating Subject Tests from their product suite. And I say product suite as a reminder that everything College Board offers—SAT, PSAT, Advanced Placement tests/courses—is a product they sell to customers, most often students and their parents. As recent years have seen selective schools abandon Subject Test requirements in droves, the College Board simply reached a point where it wasn’t making enough money as fewer and fewer students took them.

Where does this leave students in regards to subject tests? Well, the vast majority of students have never and will never care about that question because only several dozen colleges and universities even recommended them, let alone required them. Of course, for the most part, this meant highly selective schools. Schools whose holistic admissions approach means they’ve always been looking at anywhere from 15 to 40 different factors as they evaluate candidates. One of those criteria is gone, and yes, more emphasis now rests on those that remain. But how much more? Students who performed well on Subject Tests were often the same students who scored well on the SAT, ACT, or AP tests. It rarely, if ever, added much to most students’ application because it never told admissions officers something they didn’t already know in multiple other ways.

This brings me back to a larger point about understanding the admissions process—the reason you’re even reading this blog—it’s never just one thing. Ever. Colleges that employ holistic admissions are looking at myriad factors as they make decisions. Will this impact some students? Yes. Homeschooled US students and students from outside the US in particular. (My colleague Nicole will take a closer look at what this College Board decision means for these populations tomorrow.) But exceptions aside, this is a “Hallelujah!” moment for students and counselors alike.

It eliminates something that managed to be talked about too much by families yet of limited use in making application decisions. Students who are targeting selective schools can now strengthen their focus on the more impactful aspects of their personal and academic profiles, which you hear us talk about a LOT here at Collegewise. (And if you haven’t, check out the videos in our free Runway Freshmen to Junior course.)

There will continue to be a bit of noise about this in the coming weeks and perhaps months. Some of the chatter will circle around how to show “mastery of content” in a subject. But let’s note, MIT and Caltech, two schools that demand superior proficiency in math for success, are also schools whose admissions processes are test-blind—i.e. you can send test scores in and they won’t even look at them. They’re entirely comfortable and confident building their ever-stellar classes without Subject Tests. The other schools that used to recommend or require them will figure that out, too, soon enough. And truth be told, some of them already have given the limited availability of testing in 2020.

So yes, it’ll be only that—noise. The path to college for most students—even those targeting selective ones—just got a little more clear, and we’re here for it.

About Us: With more than twenty years of experience, Collegewise counselors and tutors are at the forefront of the ever-evolving admissions landscape. Our work has always centered on you: the student. And just like we’ve always done, we look for ways for you to be your best self – whether it’s in the classroom, in your applications, or in the right-fit college environment. Our range of tools include counseling,test prep,academic tutoring, and essay management, leading to a 4x higher than average admissions rates.

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