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Applications in the time of Corona: Cornel first Ivy to cancel SAT/ACT, but questions remain

29 April, 2020

In a bid to make the tedious application process a little less stressful for students in the time of Corona, The Cornel University has made SAT and ACT optional for its application. Cornel’s decision was welcomed with a mixed barrage of reactions by the student community. Although several other top liberal arts colleges had earlier decided to adopt test-optional policy for 2020-21, Cornel is the first university to announce this, keeping the worldwide pandemic min mind.

While mostly the domestic students of America found this extremely helpful because of growing social, income and health insecurity in the country. Contrarily, oversees students, those who start planning for the process at least a year ago, opined this move as setback to the overall weight of their application.

While Cornell has decided to accept applications without SAT or ACT scores, it made it clear that it was to tackle the situation and not permanent decision."Cornell over all has not planned to adopt a test-optional admission policy permanently. As appears to be true at test-optional colleges and universities, we anticipate that many students who will have had reasonable and uninterrupted opportunities to take the ACT and/or SAT during 2020 administrations will continue to submit results, and those results will continue to demonstrate preparation for college-level work," the university said.

There are three main perspectives that one needs to remember while evaluation such moves. One, this is indeed going to be beneficial for applicants since taking these tests would be a great health hazard for many. The domestic students of America would also have to think about family income, since unemployment is on rise ever since 2008 meltdown.

Second, as some report suggests, since the University has only made it optional and not debarred anyone from sending it many applicants would like to send it to make their application look strong. Those who have already received their scores and are happy with it would naturally want to make their CV stronger.

On the other hand, some might still want to take the exam out of sheer anxiety of missing out on an important aspect of their application. The statement made by Cornel has left more ambivalence than it sought to clear confusion. “"[…] results from the ACT or SAT might still be a meaningful differentiator in particular for students who live near or attend a school that will be open, and where testing will be offered, or who live near a testing centre that will be offering more testing seats or dates than they did in 2019; and have not experienced lost income for one or more of their household providers or other significant new hardships and losses during 2020."

There is a third point that needs to be addressed. For many students standardized tests work as a general benefactor, especially for those who score low on their high school grades. In India we are yet to know how the evaluation of board exams will take place, in America some high schools have changed their grading policies this year – either moved to pass or fail criteria or no final exam. Many fear that without SAT, the evaluator might want to look at the final grades more and that is a real stress.  Moreover, not other top American universities have decided to move to test-optional criteria. In that case, applicants would anyway take the test and send it to Cornel.

To conclude our point, the decision by Cornel is indeed welcoming, keeping the ongoing pandemic in mind. But there is a sense of ambivalence due to Cornel’s own decision to make it ‘optional’ and also because all other universities did not decide to follow Cornel, students might just take some extra risk!

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