College planner breaks down formula for admissions amid exam requirement changes

We are in the season of high school graduations and a time when students are really getting excited about college. But if graduation is still a ways away, it’s a good time now to get ready to set your kids up for success in this arena.

Washington’s public universities recently announced that SATs and ACTs are no longer necessary. 

It’s a big change that is also leading to some confusion for parents.  

 Eli Spence is used to the countdown at a lacrosse game, now there is another type of countdown happening for this upcoming senior at Mount Si High.

"It’s super stressful for the kids because they want to go to good colleges," Mom Jennifer Spence said.

With Washington state public colleges and universities axing the ACT’s and SAT’s, Eli’s mom has more questions than answers.

RELATED: Amid pandemic, UW still sees increase in admissions applications

"It definitely leads to interpretation, anxiety for the kids," Spence said.

Much of that anxiety stems from the unknown gray areas because although the exams are not required they are still optional.

"To a high schooler, optional means I don’t have to, for a parent wanting to get your kid into a good school and get a college scholarship, optional means you should try to get it done," Spence said.

So is Spence’s reasoning correct?

"You can send a score if you wish to and a college can either choose to use that info or not," College Planner Kirsten Keller said.

Keller says to take the exams if you want an out-of-state college that still requires them but when it comes to in-state institutions, the changes mean other measures will take precedence.

 "Whatever you can do to take it one step forward to show your intellectually curious," Keller said.

RELATED: WSU no longer requiring SAT, ACT scores for admissions

In other words, colleges want to see a holistic story of a student’s high school life, including school activities, sports, community service, and internships. But most importantly, Keller says colleges will look at whether or not a student is taking rigorous courses like advanced placement classes and how well they are doing in them.

"You won’t be penalized if you go to high school that doesn’t offer those programs but if you go to a high school that has opportunities to take college level course work and you avoid it, you will be penalized in your rigor scores," Keller said.

Another item colleges look at is a student's GPA, but that, too, is not as straightforward as one may think.

"Sometimes they will throw your electives out, they spend a lot of money breaking it down to more numbers and factors than you are going to ever be aware of, they are not going to share all those information with you," Keller said.

RELATED: University of Washington removes SAT, ACT from admission requirements

Overall, Keller says she likes the new path into colleges.

"One of their goals in admissions lately is equity and accessibility," Keller said.

In fact, universities are now seeing a spike in applications including a broader and more diverse group trying to get in.

"Many more students, dramatically the applications rose at particularly well-known schools, more selective schools," Keller said.

With an important year ahead, the pressure is on for Eli. He has to impress colleges and it goes well beyond a score.

"Push him to think of more than a number too and actually tell the story," Spence said.

The University of Washington says SAT and ACT scores will mean different things to different colleges so it’s worth checking. But when it comes to UW they say the exam scores will rarely give applicants an edge on the competition moving forward.

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