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High School Counselors Think Colleges Should Drop SAT, ACT Requirements

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A pair of new surveys shows deep skepticism about the role the SAT, ACT, and Advanced Placement courses play in college admission.

Inside Higher Ed commissioned the surveys, and published the results Monday. One survey, conducted by Gallup, is its annual exploration of the attitudes of 599 college admissions and enrollment-management officials. Inside Higher Ed added questions about AP to that survey this year, in light of a decision by a group of elite schools to drop AP courses. The second survey is a new one that Inside Higher Ed added to its lineup this year. Conducted by Hanover Research, the survey explores the views of 535 high school counselors on a range of topics, including AP.

Here are highlights of the results:

Colleges Going Test-Optional:

  • 59 percent of the high school counselors said they'd like to see all colleges go test optional. But only about half said they thought students at their schools were aware of college options that did not require standardized test scores.
  • 62 percent of the college-admissions and enrollment-management officials said they think that the emphasis on colleges' test-score requirements discourages students from considering colleges where they could get in and do well. 
  • 56 percent of the college-admissions leaders said they think the University of Chicago's recent decision to make ACT or SAT scores optional will lead other colleges to do likewise. Seventeen percent said it was already prompting their institutions to reconsider their SAT or ACT requirements.

Advanced Placement Courses:

  • 67 percent of high school counselors report that students see taking AP or International Baccalaureate courses as "essential" for college admission. Even so, half said students at their schools pass up chances to take as many AP classes as possible.
  • 44 percent of the counselors said they worry that their schools limit students' options by offering too few AP or IB courses. There's more worry at schools with large low-income populations: 49 percent of the counselors in those schools said they worried about inadequate offerings of AP or IB courses, compared to 37 percent in wealthier schools.
  • 53 percent of the college-admissions leaders reported that they worry about inequities in access to AP.
  • 70 percent of college-admissions leaders said they think AP courses are rigorous, but 62 percent said they worry that students feel pressured to take too many. Only nine percent said that their institutions favor applicants with AP courses—instead of just honors classes—on their transcripts. 

College Recruitment:

  • 70 percent of the counselors said they wish more colleges recruited prospective students at their schools. 
  • Only 38 percent of counselors from schools with large popuations of low-income students said competitive out-of-state colleges regularly recruit on their campuses, compared to 51 percent of counselors from wealthier higher schools.

Writing tests on the SAT and ACT:

  • Most college admissions leaders don't value these writing tests. Only 12 percent said the SAT essay offers insight into applicants, and 13 percent said they get insights from the ACT essay.
  • 55 percent of the high school counselors said the ACT and SAT essays provide good information about students' writing ability.
  • Three quarters of the college-admissions leaders said they think the essay portions of the two exams should be dropped.
  • Half of the admissions directors in the survey said they think evaluating a graded high school paper would be more valuable to them than the writing portion of the SAT or ACT. Some colleges are starting to accept graded papers instead of essays from the standardized admissions exams. 

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