Tarna Zander-Velloso, Contributing Photographer

Yale College, along with all seven of its Ivy League counterparts, is gearing up for its first test-optional admissions cycle due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In June, Yale announced that the 2020-2021 admissions cycle would be test-optional, as many testing centers remained closed during the pandemic. Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid Jeremiah Quinlan told the News that the admissions officers have undergone training on how to read admissions files without test scores and how to use other data points within the file to determine if a prospective student is an academic fit for Yale.

“I’m very confident that these applications are very detailed and contain lots of information,” Quinlan told the News. “So for some students, we won’t have testing, and we will look at other parts of the application to answer the basic question, ‘can the student do the work at Yale?’ We use testing to answer that basic first order question, but [if there are no test scores,] it’s about looking at all the other parts of an application.”

Quinlan specified that without testing, admissions officers will consider factors such as an applicant’s grades, teacher recommendations and student essays to determine whether or not the student is a good fit for the school.

Quinlan said that because there are often different ways for students to submit their test scores, the admissions office decided to include a question on the application that specifically asks if a student would like test scores to be considered. If a student selects “no,” admissions officers will not look at their test scores, even if they were inadvertently submitted. The question also specifies that “selecting no will not negatively affect your chances of being admitted.”

Bob Schaeffer, the interim executive director of FairTest — an organization that opposes the use of standardized tests in admissions — told the News that he thinks universities have made the correct decision to go test-optional this year, so that students do not “risk their lives to take tests.” 

Schaeffer said that prior to the pandemic, nearly 1,100 colleges and universities had successfully implemented test-optional admissions. He also noted that studies of those colleges have shown that test-optional admissions does not diminish the academic strength of an admitted class. He hopes that schools such as Yale that are going test-optional due to the pandemic will consider staying that way once the standardized testing environment returns to normal.

“[Colleges being test optional this year] is a great thing,” Schaeffer told the News. “But as one of our friends in the admissions world said, it’s truly unfortunate that it took a virus to do what 30 years of data about test-optional admissions had not done for those schools.”

FairTest has long advocated for the elimination of standardized testing in admissions, as they say that standardized tests “limit educational equity and block access to higher education for otherwise qualified students,” per the FairTest website. They say that the use of standardized tests disproportionately affects Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans, females and low-income students.

Schaeffer told the News that FairTest hopes that Yale and peer institutions consider shifting their test-optional policy from a one-year plan to a “multi-year pilot,” so as to make a decision based on data about the academic performance of the classes admitted under test-optional admissions. But Quinlan told the News that Yale will evaluate future policy based on the public health situation.

“This is a decision that was made because of the global health pandemic,” Quinlan said. “We want to monitor the availability of testing around the country and around the world before we can make a determination about next year’s requirements.”

The Yale admissions office states on its website and on the application itself that students are not disadvantaged by omitting test scores. But two high school seniors interviewed by the News expressed doubt as to whether that claim was really true. 

Sophia Miller, a high school senior from Maryland, told the News that she views the test-optional policy as mostly being applicable to students from low-income or rural areas who did not have access to testing. Miller attends a religious private school, and she said that because students at her school are “pretty privileged” and have access to testing, many of her classmates feel that they are expected to submit scores. 

Miller is submitting scores along with her application and she said that everyone in her grade she has talked to is doing so as well.

“I think for people who live in nicer areas and who were able to take the test, I don’t think it’s truly test optional,” Miller said. “I just think that they said test optional, because there are people in lower-income areas who are unable to take the test. If you took a test and aren’t submitting the score, that puts us at sort of an unfair advantage … so I do think that there is some acknowledgement that if you took a test you should be submitting it.”

Sarah, a high school senior from New York City who asked to be identified by her first name only as she is actively applying to college, told the News that although she was able to take a standardized test, she is only submitting scores to some of the schools to which she is applying.

Sarah said that she has struggled with standardized tests, so the test-optional policy has allowed her to apply to some schools that she would not have applied to had they required test scores. She is submitting test scores for her safety schools, but for reach schools, she is omitting them.

“Test-optional admissions feels optional in that when I submit my application without scores, the admissions officers will read through my application, and not just throw it out,” Sarah said. “But when I apply, I feel like I’m missing something, that there’s one other element of my application that they’re not seeing. …  And I feel like when you’re missing a part of your application, even though they’ll still read it, I feel like I will be at a little bit of a disadvantage.”

But Quinlan told the News that a lack of a test score will in no way disadvantage an applicant. He said that there have been issues with testing availability all over the country, so when they see an application that does not include a test score, admissions officers will automatically assume it was due to lack of access to testing, not because the score was low. 

“We are going to say ‘okay, is the student applying with the tests or not?’” Quinlan told the News. “If not, we will move on and consider all the other hundreds of data points we have in the application to consider whether or not a student is academically competitive in our pool.”

The deadline to submit the early action application to Yale College is Nov. 1.


Amelia Davidson | amelia.davidson@yale.edu