This article was originally published on May 23, 2020 and has been modified to reflect recent developments. It was revised on 9/2/2020.
Thursday, May 21, 2020, was a momentous day in the history of the University of California. On that day, the University of California Board of Regents (the governing and policy-making body for the entire UC system) unanimously passed UC President Janet Napolitano’s proposal to eliminate the SAT and ACT as a requirement on the UC application. Under President Napolitano’s plan, UC was to adopt a test-optional admissions policy for the graduating high school classes of 2021 and 2022, then go test-blind for the classes of 2023 and 2024.
On Tuesday, September 1, 2020, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman added another plot twist to an already convoluted situation. In this decision, Judge Seligman ruled that UC’s test-optional policy unfairly disadvantaged disabled applicants because they lacked access to testing centers with accommodations during the Covid-19 pandemic. Even though the ruling only took into account the perceived harm to disabled applicants to UC, the effect of the ruling impacts all applicants to UC. However, the ruling is what’s called a “preliminary injunction.” It’s not necessarily the final word. Read on for more details.
As of this writing, UC will be test-blind starting with the graduating senior class of 2021.
Judge Seligman’s preliminary injunction against UC’s use of SAT/ACT in its admissions policies goes into effect for the graduating high school class of 2021, current seniors. The ruling bars the use of SAT/ACT scores in the UC admissions process. That is, if you report an SAT/ACT score on your UC application, it cannot be used as a data point when deciding your admissibility. The injunction also bars UC from using SAT/ACT scores for scholarship considerations.
The ruling is most likely NOT the final word.
Judge Seligman’s ruling was a preliminary injunction, meaning it was a preventive measure taken to mitigate possible harm to the plaintiffs (in this case, the disabled students) before the trial takes place. The case will be further litigated at the case management conference (the next phase of this civil trial) on September 29, 2020, and then at the full trial, if it goes that far. It’s possible that UC’s lawyers could prevail in the trial, meaning UC would be permitted to implement its original plan of test-optional admissions for 2021 and 2022, followed by test-blind admissions for 2023 and 2024, capped by UC’s rolling out its own proprietary admissions test in 2025. (If UC cannot implement its own proprietary admissions test in 2025, UC is supposed to go test-blind in perpetuity.)
But for current high school seniors (class of 2021), the preliminary injunction is, for all intents and purposes, most likely the final word.
Given the timing of the trial, it is highly unlikely the lawsuit will be settled before the UC application deadline of November 30, 2020. So for current high school seniors, the preliminary injunction is the law of the land, and their SAT scores will not be used in their UC admissions decisions. But should the wheels of justice spin faster than usual, or if the case is settled out of court, then perhaps a decision will be made before the end of November. But we doubt it.
Weren’t some UC campuses opting to go test-blind this year anyway?
Yes. Three UC campuses—Berkeley, Irvine, and Santa Cruz—had already decided they wanted to be test-blind starting this year, opting out of the test-optional phase and moving straight into a test-blind admissions policy. Other UC campuses—including LA, Riverside, and San Diego—had decided to adopt the test-optional admissions policy. This is not uncommon. Although all the UC campuses utilize a form of “comprehensive” or “holistic” review, each admission office interprets “comprehensive review” differently, and each campus is permitted to set its own admissions policy. But with the preliminary injunction in place, all UC campuses must be test-blind, effective immediately.
What about SAT/ACT scores for the California State University (CSU) application?
CSU will not be using SAT/ACT scores in their admissions decisions for the freshman class of fall 2021 (current high school seniors).
Are SAT/ACT scores used by UC for anything other than admissions?
Yes. SAT/ACT scores can be used to place out of requirements like UC’s Entry Level Writing Requirement. The injunction only bars SAT/ACT scores from being used for admissions and scholarship purposes.
So should I report my SAT/ACT score on my UC application?
Absolutely. As noted above, your score on one or more sections of the SAT/ACT could pass you out of certain general education requirements, so yes, go ahead and submit your scores. You have nothing to lose and potentially something to gain.
Where do I report my SAT/ACT score on the UC application?
The UC application for Fall 2021 is available now. Go to apply.universityofcalifornia.edu and create your account (if you’re a senior). On the right-hand menu on the website, you will see a section for Test Scores. That’s the section where you report your scores. If the test-blind policy remains in effect, then the scores you report on the application website will not be forwarded to the UC admissions office for inclusion in your file. However, your scores would be made available to the UC campus where you enroll in fall 2021 (for the purposes of passing you out of certain entry-level requirements.)
Should I pay for an official SAT/ACT score report to be sent to the UC schools I apply to?
We recommend holding off on sending SAT/ACT official score reports to UC campuses during the application season and only sending the official score report to the UC campus where you matriculate in the fall. Remember, the scores aren’t currently being used for admissions purposes, only placement purposes. So just pay for an official test score report once you know where you will be attending in the fall, if you do decide to attend a UC school.
If I’m a senior and haven’t taken the SAT/ACT yet, should I still try to take it?
For high school seniors, Elite recommends taking the test if you can, and not taking it if you have to go way out of your way to find a testing center that is open. This is ultimately your family’s decision to make, but in the cost-benefit analysis of “driving time to testing center” versus “what the scores will be used for at this moment” (primarily placement purposes), we view taking the SAT/ACT in the fall of 2020 as advisable, not mandatory.
Should I take the SAT/ACT if I’m a high school junior?
For high school juniors, the admissions test policies might change for you, depending on the outcome of this lawsuit. But if you are a junior and have a test date lined up for fall 2020, great. Go ahead and take it, especially if you’ve been preparing for it this summer. If your test date this fall gets cancelled, don’t worry about it. You can try again in spring 2021. College Board has announced that it is considering re-instituting a January test date to accommodate all those students whose SAT administration was cancelled in fall 2020. The next SAT test dates after the proposed January administration are March, May, and June. And remember, you’ll still have fall of 2021 available to you for last-minute retakes when you’re a senior. So plenty of time to take the SAT/ACT. What remains to be seen is whether UC campuses will be test-blind or test-optional when you are seniors.
Does this preliminary injunction and civil trial affect private colleges and universities too, or just UC?
This preliminary injunction and civil trial is only about UC admissions. Private colleges are, as of this writing, still test-optional, not test-blind. (A handful of private colleges, like Sarah Lawrence College and Bard College, adopted test-blind policies years ago. But before this spring, test-blind colleges and universities were rare.) We offer the same advice for students applying to private colleges: seniors, take the test this fall if you can, and if you cannot then don’t worry about it. Juniors, take the test if you can this fall or spring.
The preliminary injunction points out that disabled students don’t have access to testing centers with accommodations because of the Covid-19 pandemic. If or when Covid-19 quarantines, lockdowns, and shelter-in-place orders are lifted, doesn’t that mean that the playing field is once again level for disabled and non-disabled test takers?
Maybe. This is one of the most open of the open questions in this whole affair.
If I take the SAT or ACT, do I need to sit for the SAT Essay or the ACT Writing section?
UC Regents also voted on May 21st to eliminate the SAT Essay and ACT Writing section as a requirement on the UC application, beginning with the class of ’21. Currently, the only selective or highly selective college in the US that requires the SAT Essay or ACT Writing is West Point. No other college or university—not even Stanford, MIT, and the Ivy League colleges—requires the SAT Essay or ACT Writing. If you are in the class of ’21 or ’22 and plan on submitting an SAT or ACT score (as we recommend above), then take the version of the test without the essay—unless you are planning to apply to West Point.
What’s this about UC creating its own standardized admissions test?
In the same board measure adopted on May 21st, Pres. Napolitano also tasked UC to come up with its own standardized admissions test by 2025. After the period of suspension (2021-24), UC is supposed to roll out its own proprietary standardized admissions test, which will aim to align with “the content UC expects students should have mastered to demonstrate college readiness for California freshmen.” If UC cannot come up with its own proprietary admissions test by 2025, UC will go test-blind in perpetuity.
The Academic Senate’s task force which investigated SAT/ACT in UC admissions policy also recommended that UC come up with its own admission test, but they estimated it would take 9 years to do so. In her plan, approved by the UC Regents, Pres. Napolitano has essentially cut the recommended timeline in half, almost daring UC to come up with its own test in half the time that it’s projected to take.
What about SAT Subject Tests and AP Tests?
According to the UC Office of Admissions, throughout the period of suspension (2021-24), UC will still consider AP and SAT Subject Test scores, even during test-blind admissions. This is especially pertinent to applicants to engineering majors. Typically, colleges of engineering would like to see an applicant’s scores in SAT Math Level 2 and an SAT science Subject Test (Chemistry, Biology E/M, or Physics). And AP scores are still being considered, for all students regardless of intended major. The lawsuit is just about the use of SAT/ACT scores in admissions and scholarships.
How does the removal of SAT/ACT scores in the application review affect the way my UC application is evaluated?
When one data point is removed from the evaluation process, the remaining data points become all the more important. Those remaining data points are GPA, both weighted and unweighted; strength of class schedule, meaning the number of AP, IB, or honors level courses taken in high school; AP and Subject Test scores; extracurricular activities list; and the college application essays, also known as personal statements. Pay close attention to these components of your UC application now that SAT/ACT scores have been removed from the equation.
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