Earlier this year, we came under fire on a listserv of the National Association for College Admission Counseling — to which we are a member — for a quote we gave to The Daily Pennsylvanian, the newspaper of the University of Pennsylvania. So what was the quote you ask? Wonder no more! As Leanna Tilitei wrote for The Daily Pennsylvanian in a piece entitled “Experts worry that Penn’s test-optional application process will benefit wealthier students,” “Brian Taylor, who is the managing director of Ivy Coach, a firm that help students gain admission to selective colleges, suspects that students who do submit test scores will receive an immense advantage in the process. ‘We don’t believe test-optional policies are worth the paper they’re written on,’ Taylor said. ‘If one kid has great test scores and one kid has no test scores, all else being equal, the kid with great test scores will win every time over the kid with no test scores. As long as the school allows the submission of the scores, then they’re not telling it like it is. They’re not really test-optional.’ Taylor urges students to do whatever it takes to submit scores despite the cancellation of several SAT and ACT tests this year. Though he recognizes that most top institutions will have to admit applicants without test scores, he would not recommend that prospective applicants take that chance. ‘If your school is not offering an SAT or an ACT, take it in a neighboring school. Drive three states. Drive to Nebraska,’ he said. ‘Get an N-95 mask, grab a pair of gloves and two number two pencils, and drive and take an SAT or ACT.'”
We Have Long Argued Admissions Officers Aren’t Being Forthright About Test-Optional Policies
The piece led to some attacks on the NACAC listserv from folks we’ve never heard of who work as either high school counselors, private college counselors, or admissions officers at universities we’ve never heard of either. The vast majority argued something along the lines of, “How dare he doubt that we’re telling the truth about test-optional policies. How could he question our honesty?” Yes, they really did make this argument. Perhaps they forgot that admissions officers argue they don’t discriminate against Asian American applicants (a federal judge argued otherwise in her ruling, even if ultimately siding with Harvard). Perhaps they forgot that admissions officers for years denied placing quotas on Jewish applicants. Perhaps they forgot that admissions officers so often claim to be need-blind in admissions — all as they ask on the applications if students need aid, applications admissions officers can see with their own eyes. Perhaps they forgot that admissions officers so often claim not to care if students demonstrate interest in a college or not — all as they quantify a student’s Demonstrated Interest. Perhaps they forgot that admissions officers so often claim not to care about college rankings. Rankings are, of course, their Bible. Yes, we dared question their honesty because admissions officers have a well known history of not telling it like it is, of not being forthright. Yet their word is not the gospel. No, it most certainly is not. In any case, we issued a response to their nonsensical arguments because, well, the gospel according to admissions officers isn’t in our daily bedtime reading.
Most Applicants to Elite Universities Didn’t Drink the Kool-Aid Served by Admissions Officers
But we’ve got an even better response now. The University of Pennsylvania has released that 76% of Early Decision applicants to the university’s Class of 2025 submitted test scores. And while other Ivy League schools haven’t yet released this data point, we suspect the figure is similar at other Ivies this past Early Decision / Early Action round. What this means is that in spite of Ivy League schools touting their test-optional policies, the vast majority of applicants chose to submit test scores anyway. In short, they didn’t believe admissions officers when they argued that, all else being equal, a student with a great test score has no advantage over a student with no test score. And these students were absolutely right to question their sources. After all, colleges, including the Ivies, are businesses. As such, these schools want to encourage more students to apply because the more students who pay to apply, the lower their admit rates will be and the higher they’ll be ranked in US News & World Report. And, yes, these same admissions officers who claim not to care about this ranking care deeply about where their school lands in the annual list. So why would a school not encourage students to apply — with or without test scores, qualified or not? They’ll encourage anyone with a pulse to apply. They just won’t admit the vast majority of applicants. And not submitting test scores does a disservice to an applicant’s candidacy in spite of everything admissions officers may tell you to the contrary. It’s a good thing most applicants didn’t happen to drink the Kool-Aid.
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