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UCs Are Making AP and SAT Exams Optional - What Should You Do?

Just about a week ago, the University of California announced some major changes to the college admissions requirements. They were proposed partly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the new plan will extend far beyond it. Here are the phases of this multi-step plan:

1. For the next two college admissions cycles (students entering in 2021 and 2022), the SAT and ACT exams would all be optional. They call this phase test-optional.

2. After that, the admissions will become test-blind for in-state students entering in 2023 and 2024. This means that SAT and ACT scores will not be considered in the admissions decisions, even if the student submitted those scores.

3. Finally, for students entering in 2025, there will be a new standardized test created specifically for California students. All California students would take this exam, and their scores will factor into the admissions decisions. For non-California students, SAT and ACT scores will be accepted and considered instead.

For details on the full plan and why it was proposed, check out this article by the Washington Post. It is important to note that the UC has not mentioned anything about eliminating AP exam scores from the admissions process. For now, we assume they will still be used in the admissions decisions.

What Should Students Do?

If you are a student or the parent of a student who is entering college from 2021 through 2025, you are probably confused and concerned about whether to continue taking the SAT and/or ACT exams and submitting those scores in your UC college applications. I will break down the recommendations by year.

Entering in 2021 and 2022:

Keep in mind that for these students, the UC will still accept and consider their SAT/ACT scores in the admissions process. Given that, whether a student should take those exams depends on if they are applying to private schools that will still factor in the test scores. It also depends on the effort required to prepare for the tests. For instance, if a student has just taken AP Chemistry in school and plans to take SAT II Chemistry in August, they are likely already well-prepared for that exam and might as well take it.

If the student has already started studying for the exam for a month or more and is making progress (seeing an increase in practice test scores, for instance), then it would make sense for them to take the exam as well.

Entering in 2023 and 2024:

The SAT/ACT scores will no longer be considered at all by the UC in this phase. However, students should still take them if they are applying to private universities that still require or consider the test scores. For the UCs, other aspects such as grades, AP exam scores, extracurriculars, and the college application essays will probably become much more important. Now that students don’t need to prepare for SAT/ACT exams, they could spend more effort on extracurriculars.

Entering in 2025:

At this stage, students in California will be required to take the newly developed test. Right now, we have very few details of the test. However, inevitably all standardized tests will have some similarities and require some of the same test-taking strategies in order to do well on them. For instance, analytical skills, prioritizing time and effort well on the exam, pattern recognition, and critical reading skills will likely be required to excel on the exam. For students entering in 2025, I would still highly recommend students focus more on extracurriculars.

Guidance on Selecting Extracurriculars

There are so many extracurriculars for high school students to choose from. If students are fortunate enough, their high school offers over 20 different clubs and 10 different sports, like mine did. Even if the high school does not have a diverse range of extracurriculars, students have the freedom to go outside of school to find and partake in extracurriculars. A part-time job, sports league, or local volunteer organization would all be great opportunities.

So how do students choose what to get involved in? More admissions emphasis on extracurriculars doesn’t mean students should go out and join 10 different extracurricular activities. Instead, they should commit to a few (3 to 5) and get deeply involved in those. Also, there are many programs that offer a summer trip abroad to teach English, volunteer in an underprivileged community across the country, etc. I would not recommend doing this. First, one summer trip does not show as much commitment as joining a volunteer club and being very involved throughout high school. Second, the admissions board knows that typically wealthy families can afford to enroll their child in such a program, so it poses an unfair advantage compared to minority students and such programs are given less weight.

Most importantly, the student should really enjoy the extracurricular and feel excited about it. That means they will more likely to commit to it over several years, and they might even strive for leadership roles within the extracurricular. It looks far better to commit to an activity long-term rather than jumping around, trying different activities throughout high school.

As more information unfolds over the upcoming months about the UC’s new admissions plan, additional details and recommendations will be posted here on the blog, so be sure to check back in!



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