Adjusted Admissions

In the ever-evolving landscape of college admissions, this summer witnessed a series of significant changes that have reshaped the way students embark on their post-high school journeys. As colleges across the nation respond to the ongoing debate over standardized testing, affirmative action and financial aid eligibility, students share their perspectives on these transformative shifts.

Few educational practices have been questioned more than the SAT and ACT. The adoption of test-optional policies by many institutions, such as Harvard, Duke and Columbia, has been a striking change in college admissions. Now, the SAT is being redesigned, in part to make the test “easier to take,” according to the College Board. In spring 2024, the test will be one hour shorter, consist of shorter reading passages and allow a calculator on all math problems, as opposed to half [story on A9].

Some colleges have extended these policies years into the future — Harvard will be test optional through at least 2026. However, the College Board reported that 83% of students want the option to submit standardized tests in their applications.

“I think [the SAT] is a generally effective way to measure how well I’ll do in college, not because it determines intelligence, but because it measures … [an individual’s] determination and capability to use their resources to improve themselves,” Ava Sharghi-Moshtaghin (11), who plans to take the SAT, said.

However, Sharghi-Moshtaghin has concerns about potential bias toward students who submit test scores in the application process, even when universities claim impartiality.

“I think that no matter how much we want to think that there is no bias in test-optional schools, it’s human nature to have an underlying partiality [toward students with test scores],” she said.

However, not all students share Sharghi-Moshtaghin’s perspective.

Although Lauren Panebianco (12) has taken the SAT, she found the test outdated and feels that “it does not accurately represent [her] ability to work with different subjects.”

“I believe that these standardized tests fail to provide a comprehensive view of students’ academic potential,” Panebianco said.

Panebianco chose not to submit her SAT to the colleges she is applying to, taking advantage of their test-optional policies.

While the inner workings of college application reviews remain secretive, it appears that many universities hold true to their test-optional pledge not to discriminate against those without scores.

Of freshmen enrolled at Harvard in 2022, 55% submitted an SAT score and 28% submitted an ACT score, according to data from the university. At USC, 34% of 2022 enrolled freshmen submitted an SAT score and 16% submitted an ACT score. That data does not cross-reference students who submitted both SAT and ACT scores.

However, standardized testing is not the only admission component currently under scrutiny. On June 29, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that race can no longer be considered in college admissions. This ruling struck down Affirmative Action, the practice of considering students’ backgrounds — particularly race — in college decisions, as unconstitutional.

The TPHS student body varies widely in its feelings on the topic.

“Affirmative Action gives colleges a different and more holistic view of a person, more than a score or number on an exam can ever provide,” Bari Mansour (12) said.

Ethan Wong (12) disagreed.

“Although some people with certain merits do tend to come from more privileged communities, [applicants in general] are people; they are more than statistics to add onto a leaderboard, so they should be valued as such,” Wong said.

While the SCOTUS ruling against Affirmative Action and uncertainty about the future of standardized testing have prompted concerns, there are other, positive developments in the admissions process, including an expansion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, FAFSA has undergone “remarkable changes,” such as an increase in the income protection allowance and a shorter eligibility questionnaire, making the application process more efficient. Panebianco expressed her appreciation for the newly “streamlined process.”

According Panebianco, the changes could encourage more students to seek the financial assistance they need for college without being burdened by financial obligations.

Evidently, the current college admissions landscape is in a state of flux. As students and institutions adapt to changes in admissions, the debate over fairness, equality and accessibility will continue to evolve. Now is a dynamic and transformative time for U.S. students as they navigate the path to college in the 2023- 2024 school year.

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