College Admissions, College Essays, Personal Statements, Supplemental Essays

Essays are likely to be more important as SAT and ACT requirements disappear

Raise your hand if you thought the impact of COVID-19 on the college admissions process would be pretty much over by the time the application season rolled around for the class of 2022 seniors.

The general uncertainty about the pandemic that pushed a substantial number of colleges and universities to make standardized test scores optional for students applying for fall 2021 admission continues to bolster the number the SAT/ACT-optional and SAT/ACT-blind schools into 2022.

This spring, FairTest reported that over 1,400 accredited four-year universities have stated they will not require SAT/ACT scores from students applying to college for the fall of 2022. As FairTest pointed out in the article, “That’s more than 60% of the 2,330 undergraduate institutions in the United States.”

No one knows whether this trend is a temporary blip in admissions procedures or whether it represents a long-term trek away from relying heavily on testing data. Many colleges had begun the shift to test-optional in the interest of equity prior to the emergence of COVID-19, but that number skyrocketed with the virus.

Application elements such as GPA, class rank, and standardized test scores give university officials quantitative metrics for admissions. Activities and honors resumes, teacher recommendations, and personal statements complete the application with qualitative information.

The increase of SAT/ACT-optional schools and the cloud of uncertainty surrounding grades earned during remote learning experiences limit the amount of reliable quantitative information available. As a result, more and more experts speculate that the essays will assume a larger role in the admissions packet.

For students applying to top-tier colleges and universities, submitting spectacular admissions essays has long been essential. With a significant number of applicants having perfect GPAs, elite class ranking, and near-perfect standardized test scores, the tipping point for getting in moves from the quantitative to the qualitative. Qualitative elements breathe life into the application by giving dimension and detail to the human beings behind the data. With quantitative data being virtually the same, qualitative details allow admissions officials to select students who best fit the university’s values and vision.

California-based education media outlet EdSource examined the likely outcome of optional SAT/ACT exams in the state and concluded that the loss of standardized test scores places more weight on the college essays in the admissions process.

This shift humanizes the admissions process at all levels of competitiveness, giving applicants the chance to share their personal stories and, interestingly, proving that students are more than just scores. It also places personal statements and supplemental essays in a higher stakes category for a much larger group of students.

College admissions advisors and essay coaches are encouraging applicants to place a higher priority on the writing process. For the Common App essay, students should be intentional and start their work early to allow maximum time for reflection and revision. For the supplemental essays, students should put in time researching the school’s current focus for its campus community and academic programs. These school-specific essays should show that individuals share the school’s vision for higher learning and post-graduation impact.

The more time students give themselves to write, discover, refine, and revise, the better the chance that their essays will help win a spot in the college or university that will best shape them into the global community members they hope to become.

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