Navigating Fall 2021 College Admissions: Test-Optional Policies

Current high school juniors who will apply to colleges this Fall are anxious about amending their college plans, given the numerous cancelled SAT and ACT tests this spring, distance learning for the end of the spring semester, as well as not adding to their weighted GPAs as the academic progress of many is indicated with mandatory Pass/No Pass-style marks. 

Additionally, they have the typical junior worries about possibly being denied admission, wondering how their extracurricular resume and transcripts will measure against the competition. Furthermore, many are anxious they will not actualize their lifelong expectation to attend college. 

Over a series of posts, I’ll address several concerns of the High School Class of 2021. In this first post, I’ll discuss test-optional admissions policies and increased subjectivity in evaluating applicants. When Juniors ask: 

What advantage will I gain if I submit SAT or ACT scores? What advantage will I gain if I don’t submit SAT or ACT scores?

in essence they’re asking whether they’ll be fairly evaluated with one less piece of information.  Admissions officers believe the evaluations will still be fair, as “part of the holistic application-review process“. Yet, in practice, admissions officers will likely increase the subjectivity in admissions evaluations, as they will derive a student’s academic potential through the interpretation of the context of an applicant’s experiences. 

Thus, many Juniors ask:

Will my essays be even more important in the evaluation process than in previous application cycles?

As the one extended space, where students can choose how to characterize their achievements and outline their vision, based on an understanding of aptitude, Fall 2021 applicants, like always, should carefully draft their college essays. Then, each applicant can posit the meaning of their experiences, which provides a guide for the admissions officer’s subjective evaluation.  

Class of 2021 Juniors will likely need additional advising about their specific college plans, given the changing admissions policies. However, their high school counselors will be unavailable during the summer break, right after the extraordinary disruption of their education this past spring, when counselors were more difficult to access. 

In the absence of trusted counsel, Gen Z students often turn to the crowd-sourced consensus of social media, where credibility stems from group think, not necessarily fact. Parents may turn to their parent network, where rumor and innuendo about college admissions is often the prevailing view. 

As with any other complex, long-ranging impactful life decision, I’d caution to be cautious. Fact-check every piece of advice, either through the vast search capability of Google or find a trusted resource to separate myth from truth or some combination of both. Then, families can navigate the already complex launch of their offspring from childhood to adulthood, made even more complex with a global pandemic and economic upheaval unseen since The Great Depression, with the greatest confidence. 

Stay tuned for the next post in the series, Navigating Fall 2021 College Admissions, when I discuss how to investigate colleges when only minimal operations are functioning on campuses and guardedness about venturing out into crowded, public spaces still exists. 


Jill Yoshikawa EdM is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly so clients succeed. Contact her at jill@creativemarbles.com

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
View all posts by Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy →