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One Month from Today

Yesterday afternoon, three boxes containing copies of my new book arrived from Simon & Schuster. To hold a book in my hands was the tangible result of more than two years of research and writing.

  • One month from today — September 15 — Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions will be in your hands when it hits bookshelves and mailboxes everywhere.
  • That means there’s less than 30 days left in my pre-saleoffer for you (and your friends) to get several goodies, including an exclusive series of emails about the college search and a signed and numbered bookplate designed by my dad. See additional details here.

⏰ 3 free, can’t miss virtual events this week:

  • For parents of high schoolers: On Monday at 8 p.m. ET, I’ll be hosting another discussion on college admissions in the Covid era — this one focused on how to conduct the virtual college search when admissions representatives aren’t visiting high schools and campus tours are canceled. More details and register here.
  • For college officials: On Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET, I’ll be in conversation with one of the leading accreditors as well as two academic leaders in online learning about how to assess students in remote instruction this fall. More details and register here.
  • For parents and counselors: On Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET, I’ll be joining Education Consultant Katy Dunn of PrepMatters for a town hall on admissions. Join us to hear more about the book and what I’ve learned from admissions officials in recent months. Register here.

Test Taking in a Pandemic

Admissions tests seem to have cast a spell over teenagers and their parents. Last week, during the first in the series of virtual town halls I’m hosting with Grown and Flown over the coming weeks, the bulk of the questions we received from viewers were about the SAT and ACT. What if we only have one score, should we send it to schools? What if all the tests are canceled this fall?

  • Standardized testing “is a business arrangement among various parties, each with something important at stake,” my former colleague at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Eric Hoover, pointed out recently in this must-read article on testing.
  • After spending a year inside the college admissions process for the book, I found that students (and their parents) emphasize the SAT/ACT much more than the admissions officers who evaluate the scores.

Indeed, even before the pandemic, surveys of admissions leaders found that grades and high-school curriculum mattered most in their decisions about who to admit. Test scores ranked third.

  • Numerous studies have found that grades by themselves are a better predictor of a student’s success in college than test scores on their own.
  • Because Covid-19 has upended the ability of many students to take the test, some 400 schools have gone test-optional in recent months.
  • In all, 60% of four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. will not require applicants to submit ACT/SAT scores for fall 2021 admission, according to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), which maintains a free, online master list.

What I’m hearing: Parents and counselors don’t trust that schools are really “test optional.” That’s why many are still pulling out all the stops to try to get to a testing site this fall.

  • In response, representatives from more than 400 colleges signed a letter from the National Association for College Admission Counseling saying that test optional really means test optional.
  • “I hear stories of people flying places, planning to drive places — and I wouldn’t do that,”Ronné Turner, vice provost for admissions and financial aid, Washington University in St. Louis, told the audience during our virtual town hall on Wednesday night.

“If there’s availability for tests where you live and you feel comfortable, great, do it. If not, we’re test optional. We say we’re test optional. Trust that we’re test optional.” — Ronné Turner

Without a test score, Turner said admissions officers at Washington University are “going to lean in” to the grades on the transcript and the coursework in high school. “If you’re interested in engineering, then physics and calculus are going to be really important,” she said.

  • Selective schools who are test optional this year will likely do the same thing — look more closely at grades and courses. They might also consider recommendations and essays more than they have in the past.
  • But as I point out in the book, every school evaluates applicants differently in their “holistic” process. So if there’s a particular school you want to go to, be sure to ask what they’re going to be looking at more closely this year in place of test scores.

“When we don’t have a test score, we’ll use other things. We’ll use your GPA, we’ll use your grade trends, we’ll use your curriculum. If you feel like a test adds to that, wonderful.” — Sacha Thieme, executive director of admissions, Indiana University

Yes, but: Why go test-optional and not test-blind? I asked that question of Andrew Palumbo, dean of admissions and financial aid at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, who was also a guest on our webcast. WPI went test-optional in 2007, yet around 80% of its applicants still submit scores.

  • Until this spring, WPI was one of the only selective science-and-technology schools to be test-optional.
  • “We want students to control how they are reviewed,” Palumbo told me. “We’re explicit that test scores are not an academic component. We treat it the same as anything that students submit that is not required.”

Bottom line: For most applicants to most colleges, grades and test scoresalign. In other words, the test score makes sense with the gradeson the transcript and vice versa. One study from 2011 of more than 150,000 students nationwide found that some 60% of applicants to college have test scores consistent with their academic performance in high school. So where test scores might help (or even hurt someone) is when there is a significant gap between the two metrics — and this year that’s where admissions officers are going to be largely flying blind.

Watch more: Admissions in the Covid Age: Senior Year & Testing

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

The Virtual Job Search

College undergraduates were about to enter the best market in years for internships and jobs — eight months ago. Now the job market has shifted not only for students, but also for colleges looking to prove their value to tuition-paying parents at a time when they’re largely pivoting to online instruction.

What’s happening: More than 90% of college job fairs are now virtual, according to Handshake, a recruiting platform used by more than 1,000 universities and 500 employers.

  • “In a virtual fair you avoid two things students hate about job fairs — standing in line and the impersonal feeling of getting two minutes with an employer,” Christine Cruzvergara, vice president of higher education and student success at Handshake, told me.
  • On Handshake’s virtual fair platform, students can schedule one-on-one meetings with employers (so no more waiting in line) and they’re also longer — 10 minutes.
  • What’s more, the virtual environment allows for small group meetings between employers and students. “Students get a sense of what others are asking and learn a lot more about an employer in that time,” Cruzvergara told me.

Yes, but: Is anyone hiring interns or full-timers? Cruzvergara said hiring projections from employers in financial services, technology, and health care are still strong.

  • “In the recession of 2008, employers stopped recruiting interns and it dried up their pipeline,” Cruzvergara said. “It was hard to get back into the game. So they don’t want that to happen again.”
  • Even so, Handshake is seeing big drops in hiring in industries you’d expect in the middle of this pandemic: hospitality, tourism, and aviation.

Between the lines: Like everything else that went from face-to-face to virtual almost overnight because of the pandemic, Handshake hastened its planned development of a platform for virtual fairs.

  • But now the question is whether colleges and universities are ready to pivot their career centers to a virtual environment.
  • Cruzvergara told me that one survey found 50% of campus career centers had their budgets cut; 18% had to furlough their employees.

Bottom line: At a time when students and parents are complaining about the quality of online instruction, especially when paying the price of the on-campus experience, it seems shortsighted by colleges to cut back on career services or be ill-prepared for the switch to digital recruiting. After all, career services is the one thing students really need in a tough economy and when they see their college education as a means to an end — a job.


Here’s How One University Is Cutting Tuition In The Midst Of The Pandemic
National University, a 50-year old nonprofit institution in California is putting a plan in place that would reduce the cost of attendance by as much as 25%. (

College Sports Embraced Reckless Greed. With the Coronavirus Crisis, the Bill has Come Due.
Educational institutions have laid themselves bare, with their desperate insistence on trying to make unpaid kids play football in a viral outbreak simply to meet their overextended bills. (

How College Faculty Feel About Remote Education
With just a few weeks left until the new school year, two out of five respondents report little to no clarity around what the learning experience will look like in a new survey from Top Hat. (

As always, thanks for subscribing.

Cheers — Jeff

To get in touch, find me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Jeff has written about higher education for more than two decades and is a New York Times bestselling author of three books. His latest, Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions, was published in September...