In college admissions process, standardized tests overemphasized

ACT and SAT scores essentially tell us one thing: how good you are at taking the ACT or SAT.

Many students can relate because the ACT or SAT are still required for admission to this University, including the upcoming applicant Class of 2018. These antiquated, one-size-fits-all instruments continue to exist because of their standardization and the need for admission offices to easily sort through the glut of college applicants.

However, we no longer find that to be an acceptable reason for continuing to place such importance on these tests. Think about it: Possibly the most important choice in your life is made when you choose to attend college. Should it really be based, in heavy part, on your toil over a 5-hour test?

Many schools agree that too much weight is given to these tests. Some, such as Smith College, have chosen the path of being completely test-optional. Others, such as New York University, have eliminated the test requirement altogether for individuals who wish to submit their Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or SAT subject tests instead.

Rather than abruptly removing all standardized tests from the admissions process, we favor a de-emphasis. We do think the ACT is reasonable for establishing some cutoffs that are necessary for the realities of an applicant pool at a school of our size.

But, we believe there are better ways of evaluating individuals that deserve far more weight: high school transcripts, extracurricular and outside-of-school activities and jobs and recommendation letters.

High school transcripts can tell a lot about students’ willingness to take on academic challenges and improve accordingly. The array and rigor of high school coursework can indicate how much students can stack on their plates. Grades earned in courses can demonstrate the ability to improve from year to year.

However, these, as any of the metrics we mention, are by no means perfect. The downside of just relying on coursework is that high school curricula can be very rigid, and some schools just don’t have the resources to offer the same opportunities as other schools can — such as AP courses.

The drawback of relying on grades is that there usually isn’t a narrative portraying all you did or didn’t do to earn that grade or the individual circumstance surrounding particular grades.

Extracurricular activities and outside-of-school experiences can also provide insight on non-academic interests and show how you will add to the diversity of a prospective college.

They can show how you invest yourself in school outside of the classroom and talents not necessarily made salient by your transcript. Your outside activities, especially jobs, demonstrate you have a life outside of school and evidence how much you interact with the outside world.

There are, of course, problems with relying on just extracurriculars, too.

Some students don’t have access to them because of budgetary constraints, other schools are in high-crime areas and staying after school can be dangerous. Additionally, individuals that are verbose but not necessarily hard workers can improperly play up volunteer or even work experiences with a few taps on the keyboard.

Recommendation letters from teachers and employers can further offer outside assessments of your abilities and character. For example, a teacher can speak to your valuable contributions in class, an employer to your work ethic and a coach to your perseverance. Furthermore, recommendations can be a useful check on other metrics because they rely on a source other than yourself.

This focus also contains imperfections. Recommenders generally only experience you in a particular setting, such as classroom and workplace, and often cannot speak to your tendencies in a holistic manner. Certain recommenders also get approached by many people and essentially do a cut-and-paste job with their recommendation letters to keep up.

We acknowledge that, individually, each metric has its own pitfalls, but together they provide a much better picture of who a prospective applicant is than any standardized test ever will.