Test-Optional Applications Aren’t Always What They Seem

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In June, The University of Chicago made headlines by becoming the first top-10 school to drop its standardized testing requirement in the undergraduate application process. Thus, students can apply to this prestigious school without submitting ACT or SAT scores. UChicago has long been known as a quirky institution, famous (or infamous, depending on your viewpoint) for their wacky, meta-type essays and uber-liberal student body. Anti-testers rejoiced, saying this move levels the playing field. With growing outcry about privilege in the college admissions arena, is this move really the boon it appears to be?

Telling a student to skip the ACT or SAT narrows his or her choices to test-optional institutions, which eliminates many relatively affordable state schools. It can also put them out of the running for certain scholarships that require such scores in the decision process, like National Merit. Looking down the road, there are some graduate school programs that will accept ACT/SAT scores within a certain period, eliminating the need to take harder standardized tests like the GRE or GMAT. Learning the strategies for and having experience with high-school-level standardized tests makes the graduate school testing process markedly easier. Finally, in a situation with fewer requirements, more students will apply, which means a larger applicant pool. More competition in an already-competitive process? I’m just not seeing the appeal.

But let’s pretend you find all of those factors negligible. How do admissions work when there’s no singular standard by which to evaluate students? How do you compare a Long Island student’s 4.5 GPA to an Alabama student’s 4.5 GPA? How does a college know which school’s grades are inflated, which school’s courses are “guts,” and which student truly earned his or her 4.5? Answer: they don’t. (A recent survey reported that half of American high school students have an “A” average. Grade inflation is a real problem — more on this next month.) It also means that even if the grades are there, the rest of a student’s academic profile must be stellar. A few varsity sports teams, membership in a Jewish organization, and a couple clubs may not cut it anymore. Application essays must be creative, witty, unique, and revealing. Recommendation letters should shine above the other 50,000 received. It almost seems as if a policy designed to alleviate workload and anxiety may, in fact, do the opposite.

But there’s more. This may sound cynical, but I always like to follow the money ... and in this case, the rankings. Schools may have some less altruistic reasons to implement this policy, according to 2015 article on the subject from National Public Radio (NPR : More applications means they can reject more students, which makes them look more selective in the U.S. News & World Report rankings. And, as any parent who has gone through this process knows, applications are expensive — up to $80 a pop. That means just 5,000 additional applicants could net a school an extra $400,000.

Also keep in mind that for schools with test-optional policies, who is actually submitting their test scores? That’s right: students who do well on the tests. Then, when schools calculate their average SAT scores (also used in the aforementioned rankings and publications designed to attract students and highlight their selectivity), the number is misleadingly inflated. Ah, altruism and equality.

As we’ve discussed in previous columns, standardized tests are not the be-all, end-all in the college admissions process, nor should they be. They’re one way to measure mastery of particular basic skills needed to complete higher education and are used in conjunction with other factors in a holistic college process. Your student should absolutely make the choice that is best for him or her regarding test-optional school applications, but make sure you consider both sides of the argument and how they may affect your student’s application and chances for admission.

By Nikkee Porcaro

  Nikkee Porcaro is the founder and president of No Anxiety Prep International, a Greater Washington area-based educational consulting firm that assists students with their educational goals. Email Nikkee at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

When Fear of Judgement Keeps You From Seeking Safety

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My husband found out a few months ago that I was having an emotional affair (nothing physical ever happened) by looking through my phone and reading old messages. I feel terrible about what I did, have broken off all contact with this other person, and have apologized repeatedly; I don’t know what else I can do. 

Packing Problems

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Dear Rivkie,

 My daughter is going to sleepaway camp for the first time. We received a list of essential items to pack from the camp, and it seems reasonable to me. But she insists that her friends who have gone to camp already told her there is a whole list of additional “necessities” that she must take with her in order to survive. Is she right? What does she actually need? It seems like I am going to be spending the same amount of money on supplies as I did on camp fees.

Preventing Summer Brain Drain

Written by Stephanie Frumkin on . Posted in Advice Columns

Summer is finally here! Your family has been anticipating some well-deserved R&R, an end to the daily grind, including the dreaded “H” word. (Hint: homework.)

Well not so fast, Imma and Abba. A lot of effort went into learning those math facts and reading skills. Here’s the big question: Do you want to throw all those hours and tuition dollars out the window? Or do you want your children to retain all they acquired this school year?

Clustering Short-Term Jobs on Your Resume

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“Ron” has great credentials — he has excellent degrees, and has worked for top-notch employers. Two years ago, however, despite his excellent performance and through no fault of his own, Ron’s employer terminated him. Since then, Ron has taken on several short-term gigs; they keep his income flowing and keep him active.

Spiritual Shoring Up in the Summer

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Dear Rivkie,

 We just celebrated Shavuos, which has the best things: learning, cheesecake, and lots of time with family and friends. Now, I feel a little bit of a letdown. I mean, the next big thing on the Jewish calendar (Tisha B’Av) is, frankly, a bit of a bummer — what with the fasting and recalling unpleasant events in our history. And this is not even happening soon! How do I remain on a path of Jewish connection during the doldrums of summer?

High-Risk, High-Reward Investors Turn to Litigation Financing

Written by Eytan Goldschein on . Posted in Advice Columns

For those investors with a strong stomach, there’s a rapidly growing industry offering an alternative investment strategy for those with a penchant for high-risk, high-reward. Private equity firms are offering financing to attorneys and plaintiffs in return for a percentage of eventual legal fees and rewards. Litigation financing is gaining traction amongst investors searching for a high return unaffected by Wall Street’s market volatility.

Graduation Grumbles

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Dear Rivkie,

 Here we are in the midst of graduation season and I am really not sure how to proceed. I feel a lot of pressure to attend all the graduations of my friends’ and family’s kids, but there are just so many. From pre-school, to lower school, middle school, and beyond, it seems like everyone is constantly graduating. How do I prioritize? Do I buy gifts for everyone? Is it wrong for me to feel that all these graduations seem a little much? What to do?


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My boyfriend and I have been together for five months. I came to Washington, D.C., for college and was having a hard time making friends with similar interests. I finally met “Ben” before winter break, and ever since then we’ve been inseparable. We hang out all the time and talk and text all day. He says he likes me to be the last person he talks to before bed and the first person he talks to in the morning. He also likes us to experience things together, so when things are going on, like the Cher

Friday Night Fail

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Dear Rivkie,